State officials say improperly trained staff to blame for Durham hospital fire last year

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comMay 3, 2013 

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Durham Regional Hospital may become Duke Regional Hospital, to take advantage of the Duke medical reputation in a competitive hospital market.

JIM BOUNDS — 2008 News & Observer file photo

— The state Department of Labor has fined Duke University Health System and a subcontractor for violations at a long-term care facility at Durham Regional Hospital where a patient died last year just before a fire broke out in his room.

The department found that employees at the facility had not been properly trained in the use of resuscitation equipment. A fire ignited Nov. 6 while medical staffers were using defibrillation equipment in an attempt to restart the heart of Casper Tawan Simon Jr., who went into cardiac arrest after physicians completed surgery to repair a weakened area in his aorta, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh.

A pathologist with the state medical examiner’s office determined that Simon, 39, had already died when fire broke out in his room where he was being treated.

This week, the Labor Department’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined Duke University Health System, which owns Durham Regional, $5,600 for what investigators described as a “serious” violation.

State labor safety officials also fined a company called Select Specialty Hospitals an additional $3,500.

Medical staffers attempted to restart Simon’s heart four times. On the fourth attempt, the defibrillation equipment short-circuited and caused a fire in Simon’s room on the sixth floor of Durham Regional, where Select Specialty Hospitals cares for critically ill patients in a 30-bed, separately licensed, long-term care facility.

State safety investigators reported that hospital employees were simultaneously administering oxygen to Casper while trying to revive his heart, and “a fire resulted from a spark from the defibrillator, which ignited excess oxygen during the resuscitation attempts.”

Simon was pronounced dead after the fire and suffered superficial electrical burns on his right torso and right upper arm. The fire was not responsible for his death, the state medical examiner said.

The sixth-floor sprinkler system and staff members quickly extinguished the flames before firefighters arrived, Durham Regional officials said.

Other workers on the sixth floor moved 22 seriously ill patients to safety. Twenty more patients were moved to other rooms at the hospital because of water damage caused by the sprinkler system, officials said.

State safety officials ordered the hospital to correct the violation “immediately.”

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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