Fort Worth

JPS Hospital ends contract with Thyssenkrupp elevators following serious injury of nurse

Officials at John Peter Smith Hospital have terminated the hospital’s contract with Thyssenkrupp elevators, following an incident on Jan. 20 that seriously injured a nurse.

The termination will be effective May 14, according to a Thyssenkrupp spokesman.

“Until recently, both sides had been happy with this relationship since Thyssenkrupp took over the service contract in 2014,” Thyssenkrupp spokesman Dennis Van Milligen said. “In 2017, JPS Hospital reiterated its happiness with our service support by extending its contract with us, which is in alignment with its third-party’s positive review of Thyssenkrupp’s work.”

Van Milligen was referring to a 2017 audit of the upkeep and maintenance of the elevators that was conducted by consulting firm Lerch Bates. However, the review did not evaluate the safety of the elevators, said hospital spokeswoman JR Labbe.

He said the company will assist with the new elevator company to make sure there is a seamless transition.

JPS’ chief operating officer, Robert Earley, said on Twitter: “We are finalizing an agreement with another company to maintain and repair our elevators, which we rely on 24/7 to transport medicine, food, laundry, patients and employees. ... We need to have confidence in our elevators and know that everything is being done to make sure they function properly.”

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 Fort Worth Star-Telegram by JPS, rated the average care of elevators as a 1.75 on a 5-point scale.

Labbe 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.

Van Milligen has said that the relationship between Thyssenkrupp and the hospital was good until the last few months. The company sent a cease-and-desist letter to the hospital a week before nurse Carren Stratford was injured that strongly encouraged the hospital to stop doing its own maintenance and to stop resetting elevators.

In response to the letter becoming public, Earley 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.”

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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.