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Settlement reached in baby-switching case

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MARION - It was learned Monday that a settlement has been reached out of court with Heartland Regional Medical Center and the two families involved in a baby-switching incident last month.

Heartland Chief Executive Officer Tim Schmidt said he could not divulge any specifics of the settlement. Legal consultant Rosemary Plorin said an agreement with the families' attorney, John Womick, with the Womick Law Firm in Herrin, was reached late last week.

Womick had 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 on behalf of Terry Hopkins and his teen daughter, Kassie.

Womick was unavailable for comment Monday.

The infants of the two mothers were inadvertently switched by personnel within the hospital's obstetrics department.

Womick said previously that Hunter Allen Bathon was taken to have a circumcision procedure performed on him March 28. At that same time, another baby, Riley Howard Spencer, was taken to have a similar procedure performed.

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

As a result of the removal, he said, the identification information concerning the babies was switched. Bathon was discharged with Hunter and at home for a few hours, Womick said, before hospital officials contacted her about the mishap.

Womick had been seeking a settlement in excess of $50,000 for each of his clients.

Schmidt said Monday that a new five-band system has been implemented at the hospital, including one for the newborn's arm, leg and umbilical cord; one for the mother; and one for the mother's significant other.

"We want future birth moms to know that Heartland Regional Medical Center is a safe place to deliver a child and a place where moms can have a comfortable experience," Schmidt said. "We are a better facility now than when this (incident) occurred last month."

Schmidt explained that staff members, as well as obstetricians and pediatricians, have participated in in-service training sessions and have all been brought up to speed on the new banding system. He said the hospital has also received a copy of an investigation into the switching incident conducted earlier this month by the Illinois Department of Public Health on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"There were three inspectors who deemed the action we took after the incident was appropriate," Schmidt said. "It's good to know our internal investigation was on track. We've taken the necessary steps to assure that this does not happen again."

Plorin said the hospital's action plan was reviewed and accepted by the agency. CMS will later make its own visit to the hospital to verify IDPH's findings. Those findings have not yet been made available to the public.



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