History of medical negligence at Jacksonville naval hospital

By Caitlin M. Kenney

Serious patient problems are not new for the staff at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, where corpsmen are accused of mistreating babies in the maternity ward.

Photos have gone viral on social media of two corpsmen posing with babies, making rude gestures, and calling them “mini Satans.”

Since 2001, the hospital has been sued for medical negligence multiple times, including cases that resulted in deaths.

In 2006,  the Times-Union Newspaper in Jacksonville reported that the hospital was being “sued for medical negligence at nearly five times the rate of civilian hospitals in Northeast Florida.”

In 2005, a judge awarded $61 million to the parents of a boy who suffered a brain injury during his delivery, according to the newspaper.

“It seemed that at the time there was almost this steady stream of issues coming up,” Timothy Gibbons, editor in chief at the Jacksonville Business Journal tells ConnectingVets.com.  Gibbons has covered military affairs locally in the past.

Concern about using the hospital has decreased since that time, he said, but some are still wary.

About a decade ago, with new leadership and attention from the Navy, the hospital “started getting their house in order and many of those problems seems to have ceased,” Gibbons said.

Jacksonville lawyer Sean Cronin has filed several negligence suits against the hospital over the past two decades.  He’s also a Navy veteran, and his son was born at Naval Hospital Jacksonville.

His cases against the hospital include a mother and baby who died during delivery, and recently a Navy veteran who underwent a routine procedure that resulted in severe brain damage due to low oxygen levels.

But Cronin said that he’s never seen anything like the recent incident with the newborns.

“When I saw these photographs, from my perspective I was completely outraged because it seems to me this is an ultimate violation of trust and respect and dignity that are owed to service members and their families,” he said.

“I have seen malpractice… but I’ve never seen anything that I could call malicious or willful. And that’s what disturbs me here,” he added.

The incident has many people voicing their concerns on social media about the hospital.

“You’re seeing a sense of ‘oh no I hope that this isn’t happening again,’” Gibbons said about reactions. “But I also think there was a true sense of shock because many of those problems had been dealt with.”

The Facebook page for the naval hospital posted a statement from the hospital’s commanding officer on Sept. 18th,

Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Forrest Faison directed immediate all-hands stand downs within 48 hours at all Naval Medicine commands to review policies. He banned all personal cell phones in patient care areas, and directed all commanding officers to personally contact mothers and expectant mothers at their facilities to reassure them and address any concerns.

People are happy to see the Navy take it seriously, according to Gibbons, but it might not have reacted to this extent if the story hadn’t gone viral.

“Having those pictures go viral obviously does require some higher level response,” he said.

Cronin hopes there is more oversight, including video monitoring, and supervision of personnel at the hospital.

“I’m trying to figure out if there are supervising nurses, supervising physicians… how did these corpsmen feel that they could get away with blaring rap music and doing this to the babies? So that bothers me,” he said.

With licensed medical personnel in the maternity unit around the clock, Cronin added, “there is really, really no excuse for this occurring.”

Connect: @CaitlinMKenney | Caitlin@ConnectingVets.com

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