Editorials

Truth, accountability in JPS elevator tragedy can’t be avoided, nor should anyone try

News conference at JPS regarding company contracted to maintain elevators

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.
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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.

If an airline were told that a plane essentially needed an overhaul, wouldn’t you consider that a safety issue? What about an elevator — which, likewise, lifts people up and down?

Yet, John Peter Smith Hospital officials maintain that a 2017 recommendation to overhaul Elevator 29 — which malfunctioned Jan. 20, crushing and critically injuring a nurse — had nothing to do with its safety.

“Nothing in that report speaks to the safety of JPS’s elevators,” a JPS spokeswoman wrote in an email to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It is about capital expenditure recommendations for future JPS projects.”

Perhaps technically. But this is about more than buying a chair or microwave for the office. This is a complex maze of machinery that holds people’s safety and even their lives in its mechanical grasp.

An April 2017 report by elevator consulting firm Lerch Bates recommended what amounts to an overhaul for the elevator in question, including replacing the door equipment and the machine that moves the elevator up and down. That recommendation came nearly two years before the accident.

Such mechanisms are central to the mission of an elevator, and, absolutely without question, to its safety.

We understand that the hospital may have had logical reasons to upgrade other elevators first. We understand there are more players involved here — most notably the company hired by JPS to maintain its elevators, ThyssenKrupp. But we also believe it defies logic not to acknowledge that Elevator 29 would have been safer had it been overhauled.

Our hearts went out to the good people of John Peter Smith Hospital immediately upon word of the grievous accident. JPS CEO Robert Earley’s anguish was patently obvious at a press conference afterward. Moreover, there are a dizzying number of moving parts, physically and figuratively, in any organization the size of the nearly billion-dollar JPS Health Network. It’s easy for the rest of us to look back and see that this or that should have been done.

But this particular chapter of an intricate and tragic story isn’t about hindsight so much as foresight. And it doesn’t take much of that to see that an overhaul of an elevator is a safety issue., not just a capital expenditure.

We get it. All the parties in such an incident are ever-mindful of a lawsuit and all the cautious public posturing that goes with it.

But must we be so fearful of legal liability that we never step up to legitimate responsibility? We’ve so drummed it into American heads that we can’t accept blame for anything, lest we be sued for it, that finger-pointing has become the national pastime.

If a perceived lapse in judgment or action — on anyone’s part — results in a financial payout, so be it. Are we so allergic to accountability these days that it must be avoided at all costs, even at the cost of the truth?

We’re seeking not to place blame, but to obtain the truth. There are a number of truths about this incident that will out, regardless of the lawyers’ caution flags. In this specific instance, the simple, incontrovertible truth is that JPS was advised in April 2017 to perform significant work on the elevator that seriously injured a member of the JPS family in January.

Surely an institution that deals with life and death on a daily basis should be the first to embrace even such difficult truths.

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