Fort Worth

‘I can’t think of anything more horrific.’ Details released on nurse hurt in elevator

How the JPS elevator accident happened

Robert Earley, President and CEO, JPS Health Network explains how nurse Carren Stratford, a nurse was seriously hurt in an elevator accident during a press conference at JPS Hospital in Fort Worth, TX, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019.
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Robert Earley, President and CEO, JPS Health Network explains how nurse Carren Stratford, a nurse was seriously hurt in an elevator accident during a press conference at JPS Hospital in Fort Worth, TX, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019.

Officials at John Peter Smith Hospital released details Friday about the employee who was seriously hurt in an elevator accident on Jan. 20.

The employee is Carren Stratford, a nurse in her mid-50s who has been with the hospital about 2.5 years.

Hospital officials said Stratford was getting on an elevator, but the elevator did not stop moving up as Stratford stepped into it with her right foot. She lost her balance, the elevator continued to rise and she was crushed.

“I can’t think of anything more horrific,” Robert Earley, JPS Hospital’s chief executive officer said, adding that Stratford was “somebody pretty special” to the hospital.

Stratford’s attorney, Frank Branson, said Stratford suffered severe brain damage, internal injuries and has had multiple seizures, and surgeries. She has been in the hospital’s ICU since Jan. 20.

Earley, who has been critical of the hospital’s elevator contractor, Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corp., in letters posted publicly by the hospital, said JPS is seeking a new contractor as part of its obligation to ensure the safety of people at the hospital, but there are a limited number of companies that maintain elevators. Another company hasn’t been contacted yet, he said.

“I’m doing anything I can do to make sure these elevators are safe,” he said. Earley couldn’t provide specific steps of what is being done, other than holding Thyssenkrupp accountable for its responsibilities under its contract with the hospital.

“The one thing we’re not is elevator experts,” he said. “We do trauma care ... We are not elevator experts. We hire elevator experts, and we thought we had elevator experts. It’s been really devastating.”

Three of the hospital’s elevators are currently out of service, in addition to the elevator on which Stratford was hurt, which has not been placed back in service since the accident.

The Star-Telegram learned from documents received through a public records request that the elevator in which the employee was hurt has a history of problems. It 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 Stratford’s injury.

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

The Star-Telegram reviewed emails sent from JPS to Thyssenkrupp 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.

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

“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.”

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.