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Doctor Beats Lawsuit, Allegations Remain

Crime

Judge gavel and stethoscope. The law in medicine, the sentence on medical negligence. | Image by ADragan, Shutterstock

After years in court, a local doctor defeated a lawsuit brought against her for the 2018 death of a patient in her care, yet serious questions remain about her conduct while on staff at John Peter Smith Hospital (JPS) in Fort Worth.

Dr. Therese Duane was sued by the surviving family of Berman DePaz-Martinez, who, after sustaining a traumatic brain injury, was brought to JPS.

DePaz-Martinez was in a coma and required a ventilator to assist with his breathing.

In their filed complaint against Dr. Duane, DePaz-Martinez’s family asserted that while his prognosis was grim, they were told that he would be allowed to stay at JPS for seven days before being released with the necessary medical equipment to sustain his life while at home.

The following morning, the complaint continued, Dr. Duane reportedly arrived and declared that “the doctors had gotten together and decided to take Berman off life support.”

Duane then allegedly removed the man’s ventilator with the “full expectation that extubation would result in Berman’s death.”

The lawsuit also named JPS and Acclaim Physician Group as defendants, but both were eventually granted motions to dismiss them from the case.

An attempt earlier this year by Duane to have the case resolved before a trial under summary judgment was denied.

The presiding judge wrote, “The court agrees with plaintiffs that, if the facts are as alleged, Duane violated a clearly established right to due process before removing life support from Berman.”

However, on September 23, the court granted summary judgment in favor of Duane after she successfully argued that she did not remove DePaz-Martinez from the ventilator with the intent to kill him and that she was protected by qualified immunity.

The court wrote, “Duane has shown that, within her medical discretion, she made the decision to remove unnecessary treatment from Berman, not to end life support, because he met the clinical parameters for extubation and was capable of breathing on his own.”

Court records reveal DePaz-Martinez died within minutes of having his ventilator removed.

While the court’s ruling was a victory for Duane, serious questions remain unanswered about her conduct while on staff at JPS.

The Dallas Express was given access to a whistleblower complaint that was allegedly presented to JPS senior staff. The document alleged a number of highly questionable decisions made by Duane that resulted in the severe injury or death of patients in her care.

The document began, “The following cases are being presented due to an increasing concern for the integrity of our hospital (JPS) and the care we provide our patients. These situations were compiled from several areas in our hospital by concerned employees from multiple disciplines. These are a sample of ongoing behaviors that have continued to put our patients in harm’s way.”

The authors of the complaint also remarked that they were submitting it anonymously “due to a fear of retribution and retaliation” from the hospital.

Outlined in the document were nine separate alarming incidents reportedly involving Dr. Duane’s conduct at JPS as the chief of surgery, seemingly including the case of DePaz-Martinez based on the facts presented.

While the court recognized Duane’s claim that DePaz-Martinez “met the clinical parameters for extubation and was capable of breathing on his own,” the whistleblower document painted a much different picture:

“Dr. Duane extubated the patient at 0608 despite the fact that weaning parameters were not met per respiratory therapy. Per the primary RN, the patient immediately had oxygen desaturations into the 40s. ICU staff made an attempt to get the crash cart for resuscitation but were stopped by Dr. Duane.”

The document went on to claim, “The patient was unable to protect his own airway and died 18 minutes later at 0626 without his mother or the rest of his family at his bedside. None of his family was involved in the decision to remove his airway.”

In a separate whistleblower document from 2018 obtained by The Dallas Express, an “anonymous surgical resident” claimed that Duane “withdrew care” from three patients in one month “without appropriate discussions with family or consent.”

The whistleblower claimed that these patients were “uninsured” and added, “I believe at least one was an undocumented immigrant.”

“I doubt their families have the resources to seek justice,” the whistleblower remarked in the document.

While JPS was removed from the lawsuit by DePaz-Martinez’s family, the document claimed that the hospital was keenly aware of Duane’s conduct but chose to quietly sever ties with her in a manner that may have put future patients at risk.

“Her agreement with the hospital was that she was dismissed in lieu of a formal complaint being placed to the Texas Medical Board,” it read.

“Without a formal complaint, she is now free to seek to practice elsewhere and be dangerous elsewhere. The hospital is complicit in any further malpractice she performs elsewhere by sweeping it under the rug.”

While the lawsuit against Dr. Duane was still unresolved, The Dallas Express reached out to JPS for comment on the nature of Duane’s previous employment there, allegations of misconduct, and more.

Jessamy Brown, public relations specialist for JPS, responded, “JPS Health Network is generally unable to provide information on any matters related to an employee’s personnel file. Also, since your inquiry relates to a matter that is the subject of ongoing litigation, JPS has no comment at this time.”

After the court’s latest ruling in Duane’s favor, we reached back out to JPS but were told they have no comment.

The Dallas Express also reached out to Dr. Duane’s current employer, Texas Health Services, for comment before the lawsuit was resolved. We were told that they do not provide comments while litigation is pending. After the case concluded, we reached back out and have thus far been met with silence.

Dr. Duane currently performs surgery at Envision Surgical Services for Texas Health Fort Worth.

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NurseV
NurseV
2 months ago

Thank you for the article, our communities/ population, need to be aware of “questionable” healthcare providers and where these providers work.
Both should be avoided.

Nancy
Nancy
2 months ago

This has long been a point of contention with Texas hospitals declaring a life as being futile, which affects the impoverished and uninsured disproportionately. Families no longer able to have any input regarding end of life choices of loved ones, because of a hospital operating profits.

D J
D J
2 months ago

This is ridiculous that a doctor took the family’s decision & right away from them to make on behalf of their loved one. Life os precious & the decision to remove a ventilator should be left in the family’s hands, not a doctor who does not love that person. Their rights were violated & stripped from them & their loved one may have died because of this doctor taking their right into her own hands.

Pap
Pap
2 months ago

The problem is, you have doctors investigating doctors. How do you think that’s gonna turn out? Years ago, my Daddy had open heart surgery that went bad…a couple of days later, his left lung collapsed. He was in 2 hospitals over 7 months. The second hospital finally got him off the respirator. The doctor at the first hospital at one point stated he thought my Daddy’s mind was gone. I had seen various aspects of my Daddy’s personality…angry, goofy smile and lucid. That doctor saw him for maybe 5 minutes every 3 days. When that 2nd hospital finally got him off the respirator, his mind was BACK. He was sitting up playing cards with me. I can’t even begin to tell you the mistakes that were made during those 7-1/2 months. I gotta say, tho, that most of the nurses in ICU were amazing and dedicated. But, of course, doctors don’t listen to them, even though they spend countless hours with the patients.

If a patient doesn’t have loved ones to look out for them, God help them. They’re at the mercy of money grubbing, pompous jerks with God complexes.

The case should not have been dropped against her. She should have had sense enough to know the dangers and discussed it with the family. Thanks to her, that person died alone with no family members present. Doctors can always give what sounds like a viable excuse. They probably give classes in it.

OR RN
OR RN
24 days ago

Dr Duane is an excellent trauma surgeon. I would let her operate on me, and I couldn’t say that about many surgeons; 90% of them are not very good.