From Bitter Tragedy to Optimistic Hope: A True Patient Safety Story

Actor James Woods’ brother Michael died of a heart attack three years ago in an emergency room hallway in Rhode Island because no one was paying attention. Now, something good will come from Michael Woods’ death, thanks to a settlement reached between the Woods family and Kent Hospital in the middle of a jury trial.

The settlement creates a new institute to help teach hospital staff how to pay better attention to patients and develop a more “human-centered” standard of care.

An impasse between the two sides in the trial was broken when the president of the hospital, Sandra Coletta, called James Woods the night before the actor was going to testify about his brother’s death. As reported in the Providence Journal:

In that call, he said he heard something he’d never heard from Kent Hospital before, someone saying she was sorry for his family’s loss. … Woods said the family’s peace of mind about the agreement was helped when Coletta met his mother, Martha.

“Sandra and my mother had a very personal moment, a mother-to-mother conversation,” Woods said, calling it a “sweet and dear way to express sorrow.”

“It was all I ever needed to see in my life,” Woods said, “one human being saying to another human being ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ ”

In announcing the new Michael J. Woods Institute, which will be funded by $1.25 million of the hospital’s money, hospital president Coletta said:

“We know we’re not perfect at Kent Hospital. Mistakes were made. We can do better. The Michael J. Woods Institute will help establish a leadership role in promoting patient safety and developing new ways to improve the patient experience and clinical outcomes.”

This is one often-overlooked benefit of the civil justice system: producing positive safety reforms to try to reduce the toll of medical error. An actor’s celebrity helped make that a reality in Rhode Island. On a quieter level, similar positive events happen at the end of many lawsuits, where families who have lost a loved one insist that part of the settlement go toward education and system reforms to make hospitals safer places. Patient safety advocates like me believe this is one of our highest callings.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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