Family of Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson Says ‘Medical Negligence’ Led to Her Death

Family of Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson Says ‘Medical Negligence’ Led to Her Death

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Kirk Johnson, the former congresswoman’s son, said he found his mother “lying in her own feces” at a rehab facility in Dallas, Texas.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s family sent a letter of intent to sue Baylor Scott & White Health System, citing medical negligence that led to the former congresswoman’s death late last month.

Lawyer Les Weisbrod told reporters on Thursday that Ms. Johnson’s death was caused by a spinal infection that developed when she was left for hours lying in her own feces at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation in Dallas, Texas, following back surgery.

“If she had gotten proper care at that facility, she would be here today,” Kirk Johnson, son of the former congresswoman, told reporters during the press conference.

Ms. Johnson, 89, who served Texas’ 30th Congressional from 1993 to 2023, died on Dec. 31 at her home in Dallas. The Democrat trailblazer was the first registered nurse elected to Congress and the first Black woman to chair the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

In September, she underwent back surgery for degenerative spinal issues at Medical City Heart and Spine Hospital in Dallas, Mr. Weisbrod said, adding that without the surgery, she risked losing her ability to walk.

“The surgery went well, and within two to three days after the surgery, she was up and walking,” he said.

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Her surgeon, Dr. Andrew Park, referred her to Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation, where she was expected to receive up to two weeks of post-surgical physical therapy and wound care before being released to go home.

“But instead, she got this infection at the Baylor Institute of Rehabilitation because they didn’t protect her wound properly and because they left her in her own feces unattended,” Mr. Weisbrod told reporters.

He said that cultures taken at the rehab facility and Medical City provided evidence that the infection was related to feces.

What Happened?

On Sept. 21, Mr. Johnson said he had gone to the rehab facility to meet with his mother’s case worker. Before he arrived, Ms. Johnson called her son, telling him she needed help and that no one would respond when she repeatedly pushed the nurse call button.

When he arrived, he found his mother “lying in her own feces and urine,” according to a news release.

Mr. Johnson described her condition as “deplorable.”

“She was not attended to,” he said. “She was screaming out in pain and for help.”

Mr. Johnson said he could not find anyone to help his mother and was told by an employee that the nurses were in training. He eventually went to the administration office, where he asked for the person in charge. The facility’s CEO, David Smith, followed him to his mother’s room, where they found staff cleaning up the feces.

The congresswoman started having “copious purulent drainage,” which is a sign of infection, from the wound on her spine three days after the incident, according to the surgeon’s notes provided to The Epoch Times.

After contracting the infection, Ms. Johnson’s surgeon recommended she be transferred back to Medical City, where she underwent multiple procedures, including surgical debridement twice and the removal and replacement of the hardware that was placed in her spine during the initial surgery.

The congresswoman was placed on IV antibiotics, which she was given up until her death.

“It [the antibiotics] couldn’t overcome the infection,” Mr. Weisbrod said.

Lawyer Les Weisbrod and Kirk Johnson, son of former Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, held a press conference at Miller Weisbrod Olesky Attorneys at Law Offices in Dallas, Texas, on Jan. 4, 2023. (Courtesy Family of Eddie Bernice Johnson)
Lawyer Les Weisbrod and Kirk Johnson, son of former Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, held a press conference at Miller Weisbrod Olesky Attorneys at Law Offices in Dallas, Texas, on Jan. 4, 2023. (Courtesy Family of Eddie Bernice Johnson)

The surgeon also noted that Ms. Johnson’s pain level was a ten on a scale of 1-10, adding that “every movement increases her pain.”

The congresswoman’s cause of death was listed as “osteomyelitis of lumbar spine” on the death certificate obtained by The Epoch Times.

Osteomyelitis is a serious bone infection that causes painful bone marrow and soft tissue swelling inside the bones. It may be caused by bacteria or fungi, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Baylor Scott & White said it is working with Ms. Johnson’s family and described her as an “inspiration to all.”

“Congresswoman Johnson was a longtime friend and champion in the communities we serve—she is an inspiration to all,” the hospital said in a statement to The Epoch Times. “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.”

Skilled Nursing to Hospice

In mid-October, Ms. Johnson was moved to a skilled nursing facility where she remained for “a couple of months until she was sent home on hospice care,” he said.

Mr. Weisbrod, who said he had known Ms. Johnson for 55 years, became emotional while speaking about the events leading up to her death. He said she had asked him weeks earlier to pursue a case for her regarding the negligent care she received at the rehab facility.

“Of course, I thought it was going to be a case of the pain that she went through and the additional procedures she went through and the medical bills and that she was going to recover,” the lawyer continued. “So it’s very distressing to me that she succumbed to this.”

Mr. Johnson told reporters he found it “ironic for a registered nurse who is a member of the Academy of Nursing to have been treated that way.”

He said Christmas was the last time he got to speak with his mother, who was aware her condition was deteriorating.

“She thought she wouldn’t live three weeks,” Mr. Johnson said, choking back tears. “And she didn’t.”

Damages for medical negligence cases are capped at $250,000 under Texas law. Mr. Weisbrod said the law is “terrible” and “unfair.”

“I think Eddie Bernice Johnson would be happy if all of this happened to help change that law,” he said.

More about Ms. Johnson

Ms. Johnson was born in Waco, Texas, on Dec. 3, 1934.

Ms. Johnson received a nursing certificate from St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana, in 1955. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and a master’s degree in public administration from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

Among her many accomplishments, Ms. Johnson became the first Black woman to serve as chief psychiatric nurse at the VA Hospital in Dallas, according to a statement released from her family after her passing.

In 1977, she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the Regional Director of the Department of Health Education and Welfare.

Ms. Johnson left office in January 2023. In November 2021, she announced her retirement and soon after endorsed Democrat Jasmine Crockett as her replacement.

“When I’m feeling a lil [sic] lost, I’ll always lean in and see if I can your voice, congresswoman. You’ve earned your rest… I’ll continue to uplift your life’s work,” Ms. Crockett wrote in a post on X after learning of her predecessor’s death.

There will be several services beginning with a public viewing on Jan. 8 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Fair Park in Dallas. A prayer service will follow at Concord Church in Dallas from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m..

A funeral will be held on Jan. 9 at 10:00 a.m., also at Concord Church. A final graveside service will occur on Jan. 10 at 2:00 p.m. at Texas State Cemetery.


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