Family files suit against nurse in Twin Falls infant’s death

The Elliott family on a GoFundMe page.
The Elliott family on a GoFundMe page.

The family of a 7-month-old baby who died last year of a medication overdose at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center has filed a wrongful death suit.

August Dean Elliott died Sept. 23 after a nurse gave the baby an adult dose of a saline solution infused with potassium phosphate, a drug used to treat heart conditions, the hospital said.

The drug was administered by Jeffrey Smith, a registered traveling nurse, according to the suit naming him and the company that supplies nurses.

“(Smith) chose not to check the label on the bag of saline before administering the drug to August,” the suit said. “Had he checked the label as required, he would have discovered that the saline contained potassium — which is lethal to infants such as August.”

The death triggered multiple investigations and raised questions about St. Luke’s training practices and medication protocols. A federal oversight board ordered the hospital to shore up its safety mechanisms and improve training for workers who aren’t full-time employees. That led to procedural reforms at St. Luke’s, including more robust training programs and more thorough steps for checking medication.

St. Luke’s was not named in the civil suit.

The Twin Falls County Prosecutor’s office announced in January that it would not file charges against Smith. Prosecutors said the nurse’s actions did not rise to the level of criminal negligence.

“We don’t disagree with the prosecutor’s decision not to prosecute,” Jarom Whitehead, an attorney representing the family, said at the time.

Whitehead did not respond to calls seeking comment on the civil suit. Neither did attorneys for Smith or AYA Healthcare, the company that supplies traveling nurses to St. Luke’s and was also named in the suit.

The case was moved to federal court this week. It seeks damages and attorney fees to be determined at a trial. The family initially filed the suit Aug. 8 in Twin Falls County District Court.

Traveling nurses are common at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center. About 40 were employed last fall around the time of the baby’s death. They’re used primarily to fill open positions in the short term and to keep staff nurses from burning out, the hospital said.

The Elliotts no longer live in the Magic Valley.

“This family’s been devastated by this,” Whitehead said.

August was a beautiful, happy, engaging child, and it’s a tremendous loss, as you can understand.

Jarom Whitehead, attorney for Elliott family