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DA defends no-charge decision in St. Charles drug-error death

Refutes son's claim of conflicts of interest

BEND, Ore. - Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel defended Tuesday his decision not to pursue criminal charges in a medication error that led to the death of a St. Charles Bend patient two years ago, disputing claims by the victim’s son of conflicts of interest and close ties with hospital officials.

Hummel responded at length to NewsChannel 21 after receiving the text of a Facebook post Monday by Mark Macpherson, one of two sons of Loretta Macpherson, 65, of Sisters, who died at the hospital in December 2014.

First, here is Macpherson’s post, in full:

"Well since its now starting to be news these are my thoughts on our wonderful DA.

“I have never been so disappointed in my life. Our District Attorney is declining to press corporate criminal negligence & negligent homicide charges against St. Charles as a corporation, yet he admits he could have and that what the hospital did was in fact a crime under Oregon Revised Statutes. I learned today that if you commit a crime in Central Oregon you will be investigated, charged and prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed, unless you serve on multiple boards with the DA.

"I find it very interesting that our DA John Hummel is on not one, but three different boards with the Vice President, CEO and Director of St. Charles.

"You may think I didn't notice the political donations you've received from those you investigated, or the public record donations you made in the same amount to the same people that 14 St. Charles Board of Directors also made, or that you serve on the same boards as them but that assumption is wrong.

"Shame on you John Hummel, you are a disgrace to our justice system and I will dedicate my life to righting my mothers death and showing our community what a two faced politician you truly are. You promised my brother and I justice, and justice will prevail.

"For those in the past, present or future, if you have problems with St. Charles feel free to use this site I created with St. Charles money to report any problems at www.reportstcharles.org

And here is Hummel's response, also in full:

"Mark disagrees with my decision to not file criminal charges in this case.  I respect his decision but I disagree with his conclusion that the reason I did not file charges was because of a conflict of interest. Mark seems to imply that I’m close friends with St. Charles management and that is why I did not file charges in this case.

"I can assure you that the investigation I conducted in this case was perhaps unprecedented in the United States. I spent two years digging deep into the facts of this case and seriously considered filing criminal charges for what most district attorneys would have dismissed out of hand as a civil matter.

"I used leverage to push St. Charles to fully implement the recommendations of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. I am confident that significantly less of these recommendations would have been implemented if I had not involved myself in this matter.

"In the end I did not file criminal charges because I achieved what I sought to achieve – St. Charles is safer for patients now than it was at the start of my investigation.  Because I was considering a corporate criminal liability theory, there was nothing else to gain by obtaining a conviction in this case. 

"St. Charles the institution could not serve jail time for a conviction.  At the most, a conviction would have resulted in a small fine. To take thousands of hours of government resources to advance a novel legal theory of liability that if successful, would have produced nothing of benefit to our community, struck me as inappropriate."

"However, if St. Charles had not implemented the patient safety changes, I sought I would have initiated criminal charges.  At the end of the day, reasonable people can disagree with my actions and I respect that Mark is one of them.  I continue to grieve for the loss experienced by Mark and his family.

 "Incidentally, one of the pieces of evidence Mark cites for his conclusion that I had a conflict of interest is that I’m on three boards of directors with St. Charles’ management.

"I only sit on one board – The United Way of Deschutes County.  I just looked at the board roster to see if there is a St. Charles member because I did not recall there being one.

"I see that Brenda Finkle used to sit on the board, but she resigned a while back. She rarely participated in board meetings and I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to her.  I don’t know why Mark thinks I sit on two other boards. 

"And I don’t know of any members of St. Charles management that have donated to me – sure it’s possible they did, but I have no recollection of it and if they did donate, it did not influence my decision in this case.  And I don’t understand what he means about me making donations to certain entities in the same amount as St. Charles Board of Directors.

 "I’m preparing all the of documents in this case for the media.  This will reveal the extent of my investigation and the at times contentious nature of my relationship with St. Charles during it.  Not buddy buddy for sure."

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Monday's story:

Criminal charges won't be pursued in the death two years ago of a St. Charles Bend patient who was given the wrong medication in an IV bag, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said late Monday. The decision drew scorn from one of the victim's sons, who called it unjust and a result of conflicts of interest.

Hummel said in a brief news release that he had "completed his review of the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate death of Loretta Macpherson," a 65-year-old Sisters resident who died in December 2014 "as a result of hospital staff providing her with incorrect medication."

"After a thorough review of the facts of this case, and a consideration of the steps St. Charles has taken to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again, I concluded that forgoing the initiation of criminal charges was in the interest of justice," Hummel said.

Instead of an anti-seizure medication, Macpherson was given a paralyzing agent, causing irreversible brain damage and cardiac arrest. She was taken off life support two days later.

In reaching the decision, Hummel said he’d met numerous times over the past two years with St. Charles administrators "and particularly focused on St. Charles’ implementation of the recommendations made to St. Charles by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices."

The hospital released a statement Monday evening from Joe Sluka, president and CEO of St. Charles Health System:

“Over the last few months, we have partnered with Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel to thoroughly review the Loretta Macpherson case. We are pleased to learn that he has concluded his investigation and has full confidence that St. Charles is working hard to ensure a tragedy such as this one never occurs again.

"Ms. Macpherson’s death was devastating for her family and the entire St. Charles community. All of us have chosen health care as a career because we have a heart for serving people. When a patient is harmed on our watch it affects us deeply.

"Medical errors are a real and pervasive problem, claiming 251,000 lives in our country every year.

"The answer to this problem is public awareness and transparency. The only way to tackle this epidemic is to make it not only okay, but best practice for health care providers at every level to report when errors have been made and to raise questions when they are concerned one is about to be made. That is exactly what we are trying to do.

"At St. Charles, we are working diligently to create a culture of openness and support. We want our hospitals and clinics to be places where caregivers feel safe speaking up. Just recently, for example, we launched the St. Charles One initiative, which encourages all caregivers to raise their hand and call a time out if they have a concern about patient safety.

"We share the district attorney’s commitment to safe, high-quality care and will continue to make it our top priority. This is the legacy of Loretta Macpherson and our promise to the communities we serve." 

Earlier this year, St. Charles and Macpherson's two sons reached a settlement with St. Charles of a civil lawsuit filed over the woman's death. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed, though the family's attorney said it exceeded the $500,000 limit for non-economic damages, also known as "pain and suffering."

The settlement also included placement of a bench honoring Macpherson's memory on the hospital property.

Son Mark Macpherson of Sisters said he believes the DA has a conflict of interest, noting in a Facebook post that Hummel serves.on several boards of area organizations with top hospital officials and has received campaign donations from them as well.

"We asked for a special prosecutor at the beginning of this and were declined," he told NewsChannel 21. "We said there was a serious conflict of interest with multiple attorneys."

Macpherson called the DA’s conclusion unjust. "We couldn't be more upset. We want our community to have a good hospital, and we don't feel they are being held accountable."

"She was a wonderful lady and I miss her, and I just can't believe that this is happening the way that it is," he said.


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