Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
March 31, 2017

Patient Seeking Help for Addiction Dies Unattended

Fort Lauderdale (March 31, 2017) – This week, a Fort Lauderdale judge issued an order holding a local psychiatrist 100% liable for a $1.3 million dollar verdict returned by a jury against him last December, after the jury found that he had failed to properly supervise a nurse practitioner at a drug detox facility, resulting in the death of a man who went to the facility for help.

The man was admitted to Oasis International in Pompano Beach for treatment of addiction to prescription painkillers. Within 12 hours of his admission, he’d died as a result of bacterial endocarditis – an infection in his heart. Attorneys for his surviving children revealed in trial last November that psychiatrist Antonio F. De Filippo, M.D., completely failed to supervise Denise Canchola, a nurse practitioner who was essentially operating the facility on her own despite laws which required supervision by a medical doctor.

“He was clearly in obvious, critical physical distress when he appeared at the Oasis that night,” said Todd Falzone, partner with law firm Kelley/Uustal representing the victim’s adult children. “The nurse practitioner in charge of admissions assumed he was intoxicated and ‘needed to sleep it off.’ Had this nurse been properly supervised by the doctor, it would have been patently obvious that he needed to go the emergency room rather than be admitted to this non-medical facility, and left in a room to die. Florida law requires a doctor who agrees to supervise a nurse practitioner, to actually direct the care rendered by the nurse. In this case, Dr. DeFilippo did nothing to supervise her and it is clear that Nurse Canchola was simply not competent.”

“This is one example of a systemic problem in the detox industry in Florida: doctors, like Dr. DeFilippo, agree to ‘supervise’ multiple nurse practitioners at multiple facilities. This basically allows the nurses to act as if they are doctors, and do things that normally only doctors can do. The doctors then receive payment for admissions to facilities like this one, even though they don’t ever supervise or direct the nurses who are making the decision to admit these patients, and often times don’t even know of or see the patients before they are admitted.”

“The evidence at trial indicated that Dr. DeFilippo was allegedly supervising 8 different nurse practitioners at 7 different facilities, all at the same time,” noted Kelley/Uustal attorney Karina Rodrigues who assisted at the trial.

Our clients’ father was a successful Coral Springs insurance executive who began to struggle with an addiction to painkillers in December 2011, after years of chronic back pain and escalating pain killer prescriptions to treat the pain. By February 2012, he was injecting the pain killers into his body. Unfortunately, as is common with this type of drug use, bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the injection sites, and sometimes it can lead to an infection around the heart. Unfortunately, he developed this condition and in late February became acutely ill. Suspicious of drug abuse and worried for his well-being, his family went to his Parkland home on February 21, 2012, and convinced him to enter treatment at the Oasis.

Nurse practitioner Denise A. Canchola, A.R.N.P., oversaw the admission. In violation of the laws regulating the relationship between medical doctors and nurse practitioners, Dr. DeFilippo essentially let Nurse Canchola oversee medical operations at the facility without any supervision from him. Unfortunately, Nurse Canchola, who insisted people refer to her as “Doctor Canchola,” had insufficient training and experience and failed to recognize the clear medical signs that our clients’ father needed emergency medical care. This included the fact that upon admission, his blood pressure was 77/52 and his heart rate was 150. He was unable to walk or speak clearly even hours later. These classic signs of medical distress were simply written off as “intoxication” and ignored by Nurse Canchola, even though the patient had been in the facility for 5 hours when she first interacted with him, and other staff members at the facility implored her to send him to the hospital.

Evidence revealed that Nurse Canchola never conducted any physical examination of the patient, ordered the staff to let him sleep it off, signed out for the evening and went home to bed. Left alone in his room, he died during the night and was not discovered until 8:00 a.m. the next morning when he was already cold to the touch.

Nurse Canchola and Oasis settled during the litigation, but Dr. DeFilippo refused to acknowledge his responsibility, even though he had clearly violated the law by failing to properly supervise the nurse and attempting to supervise nurse practitioners at more than 2 other facilities at one time.

“Hopefully this verdict will not only help our clients to better come to grips with the devastating loss of their father, but it will also shine a light on a very dangerous practice that is, unfortunately, happening time and time again in South Florida,” said Falzone.

On appeal the appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial. However, during the course of that appeal Dr. DeFilippo’s insurance company went bankrupt making a new trial useless.

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