Fort Worth

JPS was told in 2017 to upgrade elevator that crushed nurse in 2019. It never happened

John Peter Smith Hospital officials knew in 2017 that an elevator that crushed a nurse in January needed upgrades, according to a report reviewed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The report — which was completed by the elevator consulting firm Lerch Bates in April 2017 — examined the maintenance and upkeep of the hospital’s elevators, but not the safety of them, said hospital spokeswoman JR Labbe.

However, Lerch Bates suggested that the hospital make a full upgrade to elevator No. 29 by 2018. It’s the same elevator that malfunctioned on Jan. 20 and seriously injured nurse Carren Stratford. Instead, the hospital requested bids for work on two other elevators. That work is scheduled to begin in April, according to the hospital’s elevator contractor Thyssenkrupp.

Asked why the hospital chose not to immediately work on elevator No. 29, Labbe said it was a low-use elevator compared to the other two, which are used 24/7 by hospital staff and visitors.

The work on elevator No. 29 would have included replacing the door equipment, the machine that moves the elevator up and down and other electronic maintenance work. The estimated cost was $690,000.

Stratford was injured when the elevator continued to rise as she tried to step into the elevator. She lost her footing and was crushed between the 10th and 11th floors.

JPS referred questions about the elevator’s safety to Lerch Bates.

Jacob Erwin, the regional manager of Lerch Bates, said the company recommended modernization because the equipment in elevator No. 29 was so out of date that, if it failed, the elevator would be out of service for a significant amount of time.

Asked if the elevator would have been safer if the maintenance been done, Erwin said: “Our recommendations were due to component availability and impact on unit downtime.”

After the Jan. 20 accident, Lerch Bates audited the elevators a second time.

While the Lerch Bates inspector spoke highly of Thyssenkrupp’s work in the 2017 report, the inspector who conducted the 2019 audit was more critical of the contractor.

In the April 2017 report, Lerch Bates said “an above-average level of maintenance is being performed by a full time resident ThyssenKrupp elevator technician.”

Speaking about all elevators at the hospital, the company also said that the “door adjustments, speed and noise level all displayed evidence of an above-average level of care and adjustment.”

The new report, which was provided to the Star-Telegram by JPS, rated the average care of elevators as a 1.75 on a 5-point scale.

Lerch Bates was unable to evaluate elevator No. 29 for the recent report because it was locked by the state after the accident. The inspector was also unable to audit elevators 12 through 15, which were out of service for repair, and elevators 30 and 31, which were also locked.

Erwin, the regional manager for Lerch Bates, said an inspector will return when those elevators are fixed.

A summary of the 2019 audit rated the elevators’ housekeeping, adjustment, replacement/repair and lubrication on a scale from 1 to 5. None of the ratings met the state requirements, and maintenance was considered below average.

Labbe, the hospital spokeswoman, said Thyssenkrupp is supposed to spend 60 percent of its maintenance time keeping elevator shafts and the inner workings clean. However, Lerch Bates rated the housekeeping as a 2, meaning maintenance was below average in most areas.

Photos included in the more recent report show that elevator pits, car tops and doors needed to be cleaned on 35 of the hospital’s 47 elevators.

“Those photos are pretty telling,” Labbe said, agreeing that if the elevators aren’t being cleaned properly, then the best level of maintenance probably is not being done.

Last month, Thyssenkrupp released a cease-and-desist letter that it mailed to the hospital in January that urged JPS workers to stop doing their own maintenance and to stop resetting the elevators.

Robert Earley, the hospital’s chief executive officer, has said the hospital doesn’t repair elevators, but would never force anyone to remain trapped in an elevator until Thyssenkrupp arrived.

The Star-Telegram emailed hospital representatives on Feb. 21 asking how often JPS did elevator work on its own and if JPS staff ever reset or worked on elevator No. 29, among other questions related to the cease-and-desist letter.

On March 7, the hospital’s legal counsel replied to those questions with an email from paralegal Allison McCarthy saying: “The Texas Public Information Act does not require a public entity to respond to questions.”

Hospital officials don’t know how much of an $800 million bond voters approved in November will be used to modernize elevators.

A review of maintenance records, emails and other documents pertaining to elevators at JPS shows that the hospital wrote more than 360 internal work orders for elevator issues between January 2018 and January 2019. Those work orders were for a range of problems, from light bulbs bursting to doors slamming shut on occupants..

There were more than 60 complaints of people trapped on JPS elevators during that time period, but Thyssenkrupp said it was only made aware of 47 entrapments during that time period.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Luke Ranker contributed to this report.

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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.