Families sue over infant switch
Staci Bynum, marketing director for Heartland Regional Medical Center, reads an official statement Friday regarding the hospital's inadvertant switch of two infant boys. (Dave Taylor, The Southern)

HERRIN - Two Southern Illinois mothers whose infant sons were inadvertently switched last month by medical personnel at Heartland Regional Medical Center are now bringing suit against the hospital.

Attorney John Womick of Womick Law Firm in Herrin has filed a five-count complaint against the hospital and parent company, Community Health Systems, Inc., on behalf of Mary Jo Bathon, and a three-count complaint against the hospital and company on behalf of Terry Hopkins and his daughter, Kassie, who is the mother of the other infant.

Womick said he is seeking a court injunction requiring the hospital and corporation to "perform an investigation of the events, which led to the switching of the babies; produce that investigation to the court and implement procedures to prohibit the recurrence of the misidentification of babies by the defendants."

Womick said the families have asked not to be contacted by the media. He said both mothers strongly suspected there was a problem but couldn't fathom that a mistake had been made.

Bathon, who resides in Perry County, was admitted to Heartland's obstetrics ward March 27 for the purpose of inducing labor so that her child could be born. The induction resulted in the delivery of Hunter Allen Bathon.

On March 28, Womick said Hunter was taken to have a circumcision procedure performed. At that same time, another baby, Riley Howard Spencer, was taken to have a circumcision performed.

It is during that time period when the babies were in the operating room or were being prepared for surgery, Womick alleges, that personal identification information on Hunter and Riley was negligently removed.

As a result of the identifying information having been removed, Womick said, the identification of the babies was switched. Bathon was discharged with Hunter and was at home for a few hours before hospital officials contacted her about the problem, Womick said.

Womick alleges the switch was caused by one or more forms of neglect, including:

l Failure by the hospital to have in place proper rules, regulations and procedures in an obstetrical unit to assure identification of each baby;

l Failure to have properly and sufficiently staffed non-medical personnel to assure that adequate staff existed so that the identification of babies could be maintained and preserved;

l Failure to train its non-medical personnel to follow appropriate obstetrical unit procedures concerning maintaining the identification of the babies;

l Negligent performance by agents and employees of Marion Hospital Corporation of obstetrical unit procedures pertaining to identification of babies;

Heartland Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Staci Bynum read a brief statement Friday afternoon in front of the hospital building in Marion.

"We genuinely regret the circumstances surrounding the discharge of these infants," Bynum said. "Fortunately, the situation was quickly identified and corrected within hours, with both healthy babies being joined with their families. Unfortunately, because the families have elected to hire a lawyer, we are not able to discuss this in any more detail at this time."

Womick said both mothers sustained emotional and psychological injury on top of the traumatic experience of delivering a baby. He is seeking an amount in excess of $50,000 for each of his clients and demands a trial by jury of six.

"I don't think anybody can describe it," Womick said. "There are tears and anxiety. They were devastated with the news, both of them. What I'm concerned about is that the hospital will find that some nurse is to blame and will fire her, when in fact the problem is with the system or lack of staffing."

The veteran attorney said the hospital's leaders should have been more forthcoming with information about the switch.

"It shouldn't be confidential. It should be public," he said. "The hospital needs to step up."

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