Fort Worth

JPS Hospital elevator had safety problems before employee was hurt, records show

An employee was seriously injured on an elevator

The CEO of John Peter Smith Hospital has penned a letter to the corporation that oversees maintenance of the hospital’s elevators saying it “may have failed to live up to its service and maintenance obligations” when an employee was seriously injured
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The CEO of John Peter Smith Hospital has penned a letter to the corporation that oversees maintenance of the hospital’s elevators saying it “may have failed to live up to its service and maintenance obligations” when an employee was seriously injured

The elevator in which an employee at John Peter Smith Hospital was seriously hurt last month has had a history of maintenance and safety problems dating back to at least 2015, according to documents obtained by the Star-Telegram through a public records request.

The elevator had been out of service at least four times in the year before the accident, including for at least two weeks in the month prior to the employee’s injury, which occurred on Jan. 20, the records show. The elevator has not been put back into service.

In 2015, the elevator was flagged for having undersized hoist ropes and for problems with the pressure setting on its door-closure system, according to records.

The Star-Telegram reviewed emails sent from JPS to its contractor, Thyssenkrupp Elevators, from January 2018 through January 2019, as well as state inspection reports over the last five years to see what other problems had been reported before the employee was hurt.

The Star-Telegram learned that the hospital’s elevators were out of service at least 42 times from January 2018 to January 2019, according to the records. At least one other person has been hurt — suffering a serious head injury on May 20, 2018 — in an elevator accident, according to the records.

The documents show:

The elevator in which the employee was seriously injured was out of service at least four times before the accident. In an email from JPS to Thyssenkrupp on Jan. 16, 2019, hospital staff expressed concern and frustration that the elevator had been out of order since December and that the hospital’s leaders were wondering why.

In 2015, the elevator in which the employee was injured was found to have hoist ropes that were undersized. The reports don’t say when or if they were fixed. That same year, the door-close pressure on four elevators — including the elevator in which the employee was hurt on Jan. 20 — exceeded the limit of 30 pounds. The report didn’t say what the pressure was on the doors. Three of the same elevators, not including the elevator in which the employee was hurt, were found to have the same issue in May 2018.

On Feb. 12, 2019, an elevator was taken out of service despite having been inspected and deemed safe on Jan. 20 after the accident. Details of the problem were not specified.

In March, staff members said they were afraid to ride an unspecified elevator that had problems. The email didn’t provide details about the problems.

On May 20, an elderly person suffered a serious head injury when the person left the garage elevator “because it stopped approximately 3 (inches) below the floor.” Thyssenkrupp responded to the hospital the next day, saying that someone would investigate. The outcome of the inspection wasn’t provided.

In September, JPS paid a $150,000 down payment to have the garage elevators fixed. The hospital said that Thyssenkrupp, as of last week, hadn’t ordered parts for the work. It’s unclear if the company has ordered the parts yet.

There were at least 42 incidents of elevators being out of service between January 2018 and January 2019. The outages ranged from a day to more than a few weeks.

On Dec. 4, an elevator in the garage was out of order for at least the fifth time in 2018. An email from JPS to Thyssenkrupp said the problems had a “huge impact on customers from the garage. It’s the elevator closest to the building and gets a lot of use.,” the email said. Less than a month later, JPS noted that there was a problem with the mechanical strip on the door, causing the doors to jam when the safety edge was triggered. The safety edge is a sensor that detects if a passenger or object is in the way of a closing door.

JPS Chief Executive Officer Robert Earley has sent Thyssenkrupp Elevators several letters expressing his concern and frustration over the company’s lack of response to problems. The hospital has posted the letters publicly.

“I have come to the sad conclusion that your company does not understand what your disregard for urgency is doing to JPS,” he wrote on Wednesday. “Allow me to be clear about the importance of the elevators at JPS that Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corporation is responsible for maintaining. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days of the year, the elevators are needed to move patients, food, laundry, medicine, equipment and the employees who provide care to people and families who depend on us. Properly functioning elevators are critical to our very existence as our community’s healthcare system.”

Earley said Thyssenkrupp has portrayed itself as being an expert in elevator service, but that it has fallen short.

“Every member of our JPS family should feel safe and confident about stepping into any of the 47 elevators maintained by your company,” he wrote. “We should not come to work only to face yet another day of eight elevators out of service.”

In response to questions from the Star-Telegram and the hospital’s release of letters from Earley, Thyssenkrupp said:

“First and foremost, our focus remains on the wellbeing and recovery of the injured JPS employee. Elevator entrapments and other service disruptions can occur for a variety of reasons, including building and user issues not related to the upkeep of the equipment itself. But any issue must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and it would be irresponsible for us to comment without reviewing each incident in question. The elevators at JPS Hospital passed inspection within the last year and any issues have been remediated in a timely fashion.

“Unfortunately, JPS has kept us in the dark on the details associated with this incident, despite numerous requests for information. It is highly unusual for a customer to not only withhold this type of important information from its elevator service provider, but to express any partnership concerns through the media before contacting us.

“Moving forward, thyssenkrupp (sic) Elevator will continue to conduct itself with the utmost integrity and professionalism, and keep the focus where it belongs — on why this employee was injured and what can be done to ensure this never happens again.”

The Star-Telegram has asked the hospital for details about how the injury occurred and the condition of the employee. The hospital has declined to answer.

Thyssenkrupp services all elevators at JPS and was recently sued by a nurse at a different Fort Worth hospital.

Rogena Wright is a nurse at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital and an administrative supervisor at Harris-Alliance. On Jan. 23, 2018, an elevator she was riding at Harris-Alliance fell several stories “causing a violent landing,” which injured Wright, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges there had been other incidents involving the elevator shortly before and after the incident that injured Wright. The lawsuit didn’t go into detail about the other malfunctions.

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Nichole Manna is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she covered crime and breaking news in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas. She is a 2012 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and grew up in Florida.