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Politics & Government

Eddie Bernice Johnson’s Family Intends to Sue Baylor Scott & White Health, Alleges Wrongful Death

The family says the longtime congresswoman died a wrongful death from an infection caused by conditions at a Baylor rehab facility where she was left unattended.
Longtime U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who died at 89 on New Years Eve. Courtesy the Eddie Bernice Johnson Family

The family of late Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson has notified Baylor Scott & White Health, the state’s largest nonprofit health system, that they intend to sue over what they allege is a wrongful death. Dallas-based law firm Miller Weisbrod Olesky contends that Johnson was left unattended at a rehabilitation center while she was recovering from surgery, which led to an infection that resulted in a “terrible, painful death.”

Johnson, who died on New Year’s Eve at 89, retired from Congress last year. She represented Texas’ 30th Congressional District, which includes central and southern Dallas County, for 15 terms. The release says she had been receiving treatment from the Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation after back surgery in September. On September 21, her son, Kirk, visited and found his mother “lying in her own feces and urine.” The news release says the call button wasn’t working, and that Kirk found the nurse’s station empty when he went looking for help.

Kirk found the institute’s CEO, David Smith, in the administrator’s office. When they returned to the room, the family said nurses were cleaning up and that administrators told Kirk that a different employee had been assigned to care for his mother. From the patient room, Kirk said Smith told him, “This shouldn’t have happened,” according to a news release.

In a press conference this afternoon, Fox 4 reporter Steven Dial reported that the family played a voice message from a case manager allegedly apologizing for Johnson’s state. “We couldn’t find staff and there are no words,” the message said.

Johnson’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Andrew Park of Texas Spine Consultants, made a note of the incident in his record: “Of note, she had some post op complications including when the patient went to rehab post op and on the 4th day, the patient was found in bed sitting in her own feces, which was not being cleaned up. The patient’s son had to get the nursing supervisor to finally get help getting her cleaned up. Three days later she began having copious purulent drainage from the low lumbar incision, which required surgical debridement x 2.” 

The release says that lab work from Baylor and Medical City Heart and Spine, where Johnson was transferred to intensive care after the wound was discovered, showed organisms related to feces. “The laboratory reports leave no doubt that the infection that killed Former Congresswoman Johnson was caused by the failure of the staff at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation to properly care for Mrs. Johnson and allowing her to have laid in her own feces,” read a quote in the release from Les Weisbrod, who has been Johnson’s personal attorney and close friend for over 40 years.

Park surgically repaired the wound, and on October 18, Johnson was moved to a skilled nursing facility. On December 18, she moved to her home on hospice care. She died 13 days later.

Weisbrod says that Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation is operated by Select Medical Rehabilitation Services, Inc., which is owned by Pennsylvania-based Select Medical Holdings Corp. According to the Select Medical website, the company operates numerous Baylor Scott & White Health rehab facilities throughout North Texas. It operates thousands of others across the country. In 2021, Select Medical was forced to pay $8.4 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations after 12 New York and New Jersey skilled nursing facilities were accused of billing Medicare for rehab services that were not “reasonable, necessary, or skilled.”

Weisbrod sent pre-suit letters to Baylor Scott & White Health CEO Peter McCanna and Smith, allowing the parties a 60-day period to attempt to resolve the claim before the lawsuit is filed.

Baylor Scott & White Health responded with the following statement: “Congresswoman Johnson was a longtime friend and champion in the communities we serve—she is an inspiration to all. We are committed to working directly with the Congresswoman’s family members and their counsel. Out of respect for patient privacy, we must limit our comments.”


Will Maddox

Will Maddox

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Will is the senior writer for D CEO magazine and the editor of D CEO Healthcare. He's written about healthcare…

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