WENATCHEE — A North Central Washington woman has been awarded a total of $30 million after laser surgery at Central Washington Hospital last year left her unable to speak.

Becky S. Anderson, 55, was in surgery and on a breathing tube in February 2012 when a fire occurred in her throat while she was having polyps removed from her vocal cords, according to the malpractice lawsuit filed in May 2012 in King County Superior Court.

Anderson was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle due to the seriousness of her injuries, and had undergone extensive care and numerous surgeries, and was still a patient there when the lawsuit was filed in May 2012.

Central Washington Hospital settled for $12 million, and a King County Superior Court jury recently awarded an additional $18 million, including $7.65 million against Wenatchee Valley Medical Center and $4.35 million against Wenatchee Anesthesia Associates.

Confluence Health CEO Dr. Peter Rutherford said it’s the largest amount ever awarded against the hospital or medical center, which were not yet affiliated as Confluence Health at the time of the incident. Anderson’s Seattle attorneys were not available this morning to comment on the award.

This morning, Rutherford publicly apologized and said he will attempt to meet with the woman and her family to apologize personally, if she would like. He said she will require long-term care, requiring some assistance with breathing, but is able to swallow and has her mental faculties.

“I really want to give our incredible and heartfelt sorrow that this happened to this woman,” he said. “This is not anything that any of us would ever want to see happen to anyone. We have to acknowledge it occurred, express our sorrows and figure out how and what we can do to improve our processes so this does not ever happen again,” he said.

Dr. Randal Moseley, quality medical director at Confluence Health, said not just one thing, but a number of things went wrong leading up to the laser surgery fire. In this case, the incident required an ignition source, something to burn, and oxygen. The laser provided the ignition source, he said. “The tube is what burned, and there was oxygen to burn it,” he said. “We talk about the Swiss-cheese model. There are holes in every layer, and if the holes in every layer line up, you can have a catastrophic event,” he said.

“This was a failure on multiple levels, and we’ve tried to address all the levels,” he said.

Dr. Don Paugh was performing the surgery, and Dr. Linda Schatz was the anesthesiologist.

Moseley added that the culture at the hospital and medical center is not to lay blame, but to design systems and processes to prevent errors from reoccurring.

In a news release, Confluence Health said safety is a top priority, and improving the quality of care a top goal of both the hospital and medical center when they affiliated in 2012.

“This event has served to heighten that focus, making the safety of every patient our first priority, every day and in everything we do,” the news release said.

Improvements undertaken include encouraging staff to immediately speak up if there is any concern about a patient’s safety or quality of care, and a process to report mistakes, no matter how small.

In addition, all physicians and staff working in the hospital’s 16 operating rooms received training emphasizing teamwork.

K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512

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