TAMPA — A state arbitration panel has awarded the widow of former Tampa City Council member Perry Harvey Jr. more than $700,000 in a medical malpractice case against Tampa General Hospital.
Harvey — one of Tampa's top black leaders, the longtime president of the longshoreman's union and the first African-American elected to the City Council — died on Sept. 12, 2012, at the age of 81.
That March, Harvey was admitted to Tampa General after complaining of chest and abdominal pain, according to pleadings filed with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.
Harvey went into the hospital with "skin intact" but developed the most severe kind of pressure ulcer on the lower part of his back, his widow's attorney, Nathaniel W. Tindall II of Tampa, wrote in a statement filed before the arbitration hearing this month.
The cause of the sore, Tindall contended, was "the failure of the staff at Tampa General Hospital" to relieve the pressure on an area just above their patient's buttocks. The wound never healed.
In its own pleadings, Tampa General acknowledged that agreeing to take the case to voluntary binding arbitration "constituted an admission of liability."
But Tampa General disagreed with Tindall's contentions about the ulcer, and it denied admitting responsibility "for the wrongful death of Mr. Harvey."
"His death was the natural result of his numerous pre-existing and co-morbid conditions, not wrongful and not in any way related to the pressure sore at issue," Tampa General's attorney, Edward J. Carbone of the Carlton Fields law firm, wrote in a pre-hearing statement.
According to documents the hospital filed with the state:
Harvey's medical history included diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney diseases, dementia, peripheral vascular disease and a left leg amputation above the knee.
Within days of being admitted to Tampa General, Harvey's health deteriorated. He was disoriented, with slurred speech. He began receiving dialysis for acute renal failure.
About two weeks after he was admitted, Harvey went into cardiac arrest with no pulse and was resuscitated. After six weeks in the hospital, his condition was considered "critically ill with organ failure and severe metabolic derangements."
Harvey was transferred on May 10, 2012, to Kindred Hospital Central Tampa, where he died four months later.
Tampa General spokesman John Dunn said Tuesday neither the hospital nor its attorney would comment on the case. Tindall also declined to comment.
After the arbitration panel's award Oct. 4, Carbone filed a motion to reduce the award. On Tuesday, chief arbitrator and Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins said in a notice that under Florida law the panel lacked authority to reconsider it.
Harvey's death followed a period of poor health that his family has said went back to 2001, when he lost his left leg to diabetes. His decline stood in sharp contrast to a life characterized by a fierce determination and drive.
The son of a legendary union boss and civil rights leader, Harvey largely grew up on Tampa's docks, going to work as a water boy for United Fruit Co. at age 13. At Middleton High School, he was an all-star athlete. In three terms on the City Council, he advocated on behalf of minority-owned businesses, demanding "my piece of the pie" before the creation of programs to help those firms win government contracts. And when a federal charge of stealing union funds interrupted his last term, Harvey fought the charges, was acquitted and returned in triumph to the council.
Along the way, Harvey took at least two public stands regarding Tampa General Hospital. In 1989 and in 1996, he came out against the idea of the hospital going from public to private nonprofit ownership (which did happen in 1997).
The reason, he once said, was about making sure the indigent and the elderly who needed care at Tampa General could get it.
"What are we going to do with those people," he asked, "if we don't have Tampa General?"
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, [email protected] or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.