Brian Steinborn and his wife, Juli Treadwell, took 4-year-old daughter Olivia to the nearest emergency room, Excel ER, less than one mile from their residence, just after the child started to spike a high fever. Staff on duty ordered lab work and checked the child’s vitals. Dehydrated, she was administered fluids and discharged home with a prescription to treat an ear infection. However, five hours later, Brian and Juli were forced to take Olivia back as her condition had worsened. She was in full cardiopulmonary arrest when they arrived at the clinic a second time, which could have been prevented had she been treated differently during their initial visit.
Olivia Treadwell-Steinborn died August 7, 2016. An autopsy report from the Tarrant County medical examiner, completed on August 8, found Olivia’s primary cause of death was undiagnosed bacterial meningitis.
The family has filed a medical malpractice lawsuit alleging the ER and the physician did not do enough to identify the cause of Olivia’s distress, and had they noted the signs of the infection, her death could have been prevented. The lawsuit claims the doctor should have recognized the seriousness of her condition and transferred her to the hospital.
Attorney Les Weisbrod, who is representing the family, says Olivia’s case raises questions about staffing, oversight, and experience at Excel ER. The lawsuit accuses the facility of failing to staff “appropriately qualified and experienced physicians” who may have prevented the misdiagnosis.
The doctor who treated Olivia was still in training as a medical resident, and, therefore, according to the lawsuit, should have been under the supervision of an attending physician. Weisbrod says the tragedy constitutes gross negligence. “The ER was too cheap, and looking too much in the way of profits, to pay for a real physician who had finished training,” he said.
Two experts who reviewed Olivia’s health record and autopsy report at the request of the family say the standard of care was not met that night. Olivia’s symptoms upon entering should have been “obvious (and frightening) to an emergency physician practicing the standard of care,” said Dr. Kenneth Corre, an emergency physician at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
The experts claim the child’s symptoms, including fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, and her persistent rapid heart rate and abnormal breathing, should have been clear red flags. The preschooler was at a higher risk for meningitis, too. She was deaf, had chronic ear infections and wore a cochlear implant in her right ear.
Olivia’s blood work also showed a “grossly abnormal white count and platelet count which were indicative of an overwhelming bacterial infection,” Dr. Armando Correa, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, stated, adding, that the care the child received “proximately caused her cardiorespiratory arrest and subsequent demise.”
Another issue could have been insufficient staffing. A freestanding emergency room like Excel ER is a state-licensed facility that is not physically connected to a hospital and provides emergency care around the clock.
“The problem is there is an ER doctor shortage in Texas. We don’t have enough emergency-trained specialists to staff every single shift 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Dr. Cedric Dark, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine said.
The family is seeking over $1 million in damages.