DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ga. — A Douglasville mother says her son was dismissed from a local emergency room and denied care, that may have saved his life.
Tosha Nettles said she understands the pandemic truly tested metro Atlanta hospitals as personal worked long hours around a news and deadly virus. But Nettles said her son’s COVID symptoms were mistaken for an attitude problem when she took Tyler Fairley 17-year-old to Wellstar Douglas last year.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi learned an investigation after Tyler’s death found the hospital’s failures posed an “immediate and serious threat” to Tyler’s health and safety, according to the report.
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Tyler first went to Wellstar Douglas on July 25th, 2021. The hospital discharged the COVID positive teen that afternoon with some medicine. But three days later Nettles called 911 after Tyler was so weak, he fell down. The ambulance took him back to Wellstar Douglas on July 28th.
Nettles said the hospital staff did not take his illness seriously.
“The doctor’s like ‘I’m trying to talk to him and he’s not talking to me’ and you know he got offended by that,” Nettles said.
Tyler was called a gentle giant. The quiet teen was 6′4″ and weighed 280 pounds. After running tests, the hospital discharged Tyler. According to Nettles, nursing staff again accused Tyler of being disrespectful because he was too weak to get in the car.
“They said to each other, ‘we can’t hurt ourselves trying to get him in the car if he’s not going to help himself’ and they let him go headfirst into the car.”
Tyler’s parents left the Wellstar emergency room and drove 30 minutes to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Nettles said CHOA emergency room staff were shocked at Tyler’s condition. “She was like ‘what?’ and she was like ‘they discharged him?’ I said yes ma’am,” Nettles said.
Nettles said CHOA doctors told her Tyler was suffering seizures. They did an emergency intubation to help him breath. He died at the hospital four days later.
“If [Wellstar] had halfway cared I feel like my son would still be here,” Nettles said.
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In August 2021, investigators interviewed doctors, nurses, even reviewed surveillance video of Tyler’s family struggling to get him in the car. They accused Wellstar Douglas of violating the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act when caring for Tyler.
According to state records, EMTALA violations are relatively rare. Channel 2 found only 33 violations by Georgia hospitals since January 2019. You can look at those violations, or file a complaint here.
In the Department of Health and Human Services report released in February 2022, they found the hospital did not provide “adequate medical screening or stabilizing treatment” for the teen. The 29-page report also notes that although the teen had an abnormal electrocardiogram an on-call cardiologist was never alerted.
Nettles told Choi the DHHS report is the first she learned of an abnormal test result from Tyler’s ER visit. “They told us the tests came back fine,” she said.
In an email, a Wellstar spokesperson wrote:
“At Wellstar Health System, all 10 of our hospitals strive to provide high-quality care and undergo regular, continuous improvement processes to meet that goal. All hospitals, including Wellstar Douglas Hospital, are reviewed by external agencies, and a preliminary report was issued by one such agency. We strongly disagree with that report and have submitted a written objection to the preliminary observations. Unfortunately, the hospital’s written objection is not available for public review due to patient privacy protections, and we are currently waiting for the disposition of that matter.”
Nettles said an attorney told her she had no case. Susan Witt, an Atlanta attorney with 25 years experience handling medical malpractice cases said she believes most judges would give a pass to doctors and nurses, dealing with patients suffering from a new, deadly virus like COVID-19.
“I imagine she’s having a harder time taking this case because number one it is an emergency room case, and the standards are higher. It’s gross negligence. Not just mere professional or medical malpractice negligence which is a much lower,” Witt said. “There are fewer lawyers are who have the resources and those bandwidth to take on these cases.”
Nettles created a sports scholarship in Tyler’s honor. After Tyler’s death Nettles learned he earned a full scholarship to play football at Morehouse. She hopes telling Tyler’s story will help another family, but still wants to hold the hospital accountable in court.
“That’s their job. That’s what they took an oath to do,” Nettles said. “Don’t play Russian roulette with my son’s life because of how you feel tonight because it cost him his life.”
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