Trial opens in case faulting Mercy Regional Medical Center for quality of care

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 10:30 PM

A civil trial is underway in La Plata County Court for a Durango man who accuses Mercy Regional Medical Center of failing to perceive and prevent a bedsore that severely complicated his recovery.

Jason Gurule, who was 46 at the time, was admitted to Mercy on July 29, 2014, with severe and debilitating back pain, according to his lawsuit. Mercy has denied any wrongdoing, saying hospital staff provided reasonable care and took necessary steps to save Gurule’s life.

The trial started Monday in 6th Judicial District Court in La Plata County. Judge William Herringer is overseeing the trial; a seven-person jury will decide the case.

Plaintiffs are seeking in excess of $100,000 in damages, but lawyers have not shared a specific dollar figure.

Gurule weighed almost 600 pounds when he was admitted to the hospital, and hospital staff should have known he was at high risk for developing bedsores, according to his lawsuit and opening statements made Monday.

As a result of his back pain, Gurule was mostly bedbound during his stay at the hospital.

Nurses should have turned him over, documented his skin condition and made sure his protein levels remained sufficient, said his Denver lawyer, Robert Liechty.

Gurule began to lose feeling in his legs, and on Aug. 8, hospital staff moved him by dragging him across the mattress, which caused the skin on his buttocks to sheer away, Liechty said. The tear was so large that parts of Gurule’s bones were visible in the wound, his lawsuit says.

Gurule was eventually transferred to two different hospitals in Colorado Springs. He lost his ability to walk for about a year as a result of the bedsore, his attorney said. He also was confined to a nursing home for a number of months during his recovery.

Jurors were shown pictures of the lesion before and after treatment. A deep scar remains, which looks almost like a second crack on the buttocks.

Gurule can walk only 25 to 50 steps with a walker. Otherwise, he is confined to a wheelchair, Liechty said. He weighs about 400 pounds now.

Denver defense lawyer Michelle Prud’Homme told jurors there are two sides to every story.

She said Gurule’s back injury was life-threatening, and Mercy staff helped stabilize him. Gurule was provided with oxygen, which he removed, and he was eventually moved into the intensive-care unit for round-the-clock care.

His bed was elevated a little bit, which isn’t ideal for preventing bedsores, but it was necessary to make sure he received enough oxygen and stayed alive, Prud’Homme said.

Patients are sometimes receptive to medical staff and other times not receptive, she said. Gurule didn’t follow nursing orders, Prud’Homme said.

Gurule wants to pin all the blame on nurses, but in reality, a team of medical professions are responsible for preventing pressure sores, including doctors, dietitians, physical therapists and others, she said.

And sometimes, everything is done like it’s supposed to be done, and it ends in the same result, she said, implying some things are unpreventable.

No records indicate Gurule was dragged across the mattress, she said. She asked jurors to separate Gurule’s back injury from his bedsore injury. He was moved to Colorado Springs for his back injury, not his bedsore, she said, and he is in a wheelchair for a pre-existing condition, not his bedsore.

The Denver-based law offices of J.M. Reinan filed a complaint Jan. 25 in Archuleta County accusing Catholic Health Initiatives Colorado and Mercy Home Health and Hospice of failing to provide proper hygiene, physical therapy and overall health care to Joseph Ray Shouse, 43, of Pagosa Springs, which resulted in an open sore on Shouse’s bottom, which became septic and required a series of surgeries.

Reinan took the case to trial and lost.