Suits allege wrongful baby deaths at South Fulton hospital

Just over a two-month period this summer, negligent medical care caused the deaths of three babies either shortly before or after they were delivered at South Fulton Medical Center, a series of recently filed lawsuits allege.

The suits assert that physicians and other health-care providers failed to recognize the signs of early labor in one case, unnecessarily delayed a cesarean delivery in another and failed to recognize fetal distress for another baby who was born brain dead and died four days later.

The litigation was filed against Tenet South Fulton, which operates the 338-bed community hospital in East Point, as well as numerous doctors, OB/GYN practices, midwives and other medical personnel.

In a statement, South Fulton Medical Center said its top priority is to provide safe, quality health care.

“While it is not appropriate to comment on specific patient care, we deny allegations of negligence in the complaints and will vigorously defend ourselves through the legal process,” the hospital said. “South Fulton Medical Center has faithfully served the community for nearly 50 years. We continue to dedicate our efforts to putting patients first and providing quality care to our community.”

James Hugh Potts, the women’s attorney, said the deaths could have been avoided.

“Their stories are heartbreaking,” the Atlanta lawyer said. “With proper care, these babies would have lived. They’d be with their families now.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages for pain and suffering, loss of the deceased infants’ future earnings, medical expenses and punitive damages. Potts said he will soon file another suit against Tenet South Fulton, alleging yet another wrongful death occurred in June.

Potts has also filed a lawsuit on behalf of 20-year-old Tangela Phillips, of East Point, whose daughter Harmoni was born at South Fulton Medical Center on Nov. 10, 2010. The suit contends that, instead of performing a cesarean section, physicians improperly used a vacuum device to deliver the child, who was permanently damaged with nerve palsy.

In a recent interview, Phillips and two other plaintiffs expressed anger at the quality of care they received.

Angel Milan, 30, of Decatur, said she was 37 weeks pregnant and feeling decreased fetal movements when she was admitted on May 21. She was put on a fetal monitor, which detected a heartbeat, and a cesarean delivery was scheduled for that afternoon, she said.

But the delivery was delayed until the next morning and by then it was too late, she said. Her baby, Maliya, was pronounced dead shortly after the May 22 delivery.

Milan said she was told her baby had been dead for three days prior to delivery. But an autopsy determined the baby died within 24 hours of delivery, the lawsuit said.

“This baby would have lived had it been delivered the day before,” Potts said.

Said Milan, “I don’t want another woman to go through what I went through.”

Seven months pregnant, Shan Davis, 22, of Union City, was admitted July 23 complaining of back and lower stomach pains, a high fever and decreased fetal movements, her lawsuit said. Instead undergoing tests to rule out preterm labor, Davis was given acetaminophen and sent home after being told she had the flu, the suit said.

But Davis’ pain became so severe she returned to the hospital hours later. She was taken to the delivery room where Zsa’ Nelle, weighing 1 pound and 15 ounces, was pronounced dead shortly after birth, the lawsuit said.

“I did everything they asked me to do, but I still went home with no baby,” Davis said.

Davis immediately got rid of a recently purchased crib. “It’s still hard for me to interact with other people’s children,” she said.

The other suit was filed by Quachasity Houston, 18, of Atlanta, who was 39 weeks pregnant when she was admitted on July 17.

Her suit says physicians failed to properly diagnose that Houston needed a cesarean delivery until it was too late. Her baby, Zhe-Mani, was born with no brain activity and died four days later after being taken off life support.

Quality ratings available to the public for South Fulton Medical Center vary.

While its performance is comparable to many hospitals on some measurements, it has struggled in other comparisons. For example, in new national rankings the nonprofit Leapfrog Group recently gave South Fulton a “D” rating on an overall score that measures patient safety for preventing errors, infections, injuries and medication mix-ups. South Fulton is one of five Georgia hospitals to receive a D or F in the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Score ratings.

The hospital said it is committed to providing care in a safe environment and participating in efforts that measure hospital performance.

“While scoring methods differ by organization and none provide a complete picture of the care provided to patients, we use this information to continually improve the care we provide,” its statement said. “We are actively reviewing key data and implementing action plans to drive improvements.”