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Eddie Bernice Johnson's family resolves medical negligence claims against Baylor hospital

Eddie Bernice Johnson is holds up her right hand during a ceremonial swearing in ceremony with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Stands in a row of people in front of American flags.
Jacquelyn Martin
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio participates in a ceremonial swearing in with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, second from right, on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2011.

Former U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson's family has resolved claims of medical negligence against staff at a Baylor Scott & White facility in Dallas nearly six months after her death.

The hospital system will rename a nursing scholarship after the longtime congresswoman and donated an undisclosed amount to a new foundation dedicated to causes Johnson championed while in office.

The retired Dallas-area congresswoman died on New Year's Eve at 89. Days later, attorney Les Weisbrod sent a pre-lawsuit notice to the Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation on behalf of her son, Kirk Johnson, who said nurses there left his mother lying in her own feces and urine while she was recovering from back surgery.

That led to an incision in her lower back becoming infected, which her family alleged led to her death.

The two parties have now come to a resolution, but Weisbrod declined to discuss specific terms of the agreement or the previous allegations. He said he’s received assurances from Baylor Scott & White that policies will be enforced to prevent a similar situation from happening to anyone else.

“[Johnson] would always want to have a compromise, peaceful resolution if she could,” Weisbrod said. “And believe me, I couldn’t do this in good conscience if I couldn’t go to sleep at night and think that Eddie Bernice would be proud of me for what we did.”

Kirk Johnson told reporters in January he had an appointment with his mother's caseworker at the rehab facility in September. He left home early when his mother called saying she had been pushing the call button from her bed to get help, he said, but no one had responded.

Kirk Johnson arrived at the facility and found his mother in "deplorable" condition. After trying to call in nurses on the floor, he ultimately went to the rehab facility CEO’s office. The two went back down to Eddie Bernice Johnson’s room, where nurses were already cleaning her up.

A man in a suit with glasses looks at another man on the left side of the image, who is out of focus.
Toluwani Osibamowo
Kirk Johnson, former U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson's son, sits with the family's longtime lawyer Les Weisbrod during a press conference June 27, 2024. Kirk Johnson, his wife and his eldest son will oversee the Eddie Bernice Johnson Lives Foundation, a new nonprofit that will provide grants for other charity organizations in the congresswoman's honor.

According to her surgeon's notes, “copious purulent drainage” was coming from an incision on Johnson's lower back three days after the incident, and it required surgical repair. She was transferred to a skilled nurse facility the next month and later hospice care in December, where she was put on antibiotics.

A pre-suit notice letter gives parties 60 days to try to resolve a claim before a lawsuit can be filed, as required by Texas law. Weisbrod previously said in a statement there would either be a resolution or a lawsuit filed by April 15, but he said Thursday the resolution process was slowed because of his and another lawyer’s schedules.

The last few months have been tough, Kirk Johnson said, but his family is ready to move forward with the new Eddie Bernice Johnson Lives Foundation.

“We are at peace. We have to accept God’s will. But,” he said, his voice cracking, “her initiatives, her interests will continue to live.”

The nonprofit will make contributions to other charities, specifically those that promote causes like women’s rights and STEM education. Baylor Scott & White Health contributed to the foundation, but Weisbrod declined to disclose how much.

The hospital system is also renaming its nursing scholarship for employees as the Eddie Bernice Johnson Scholarship Program. Through it, Baylor Scott & White sponsors employees who want to pursue a nursing degree part-time. Eddie Bernice Johnson began her career as a nurse.

“Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson was a friend and champion in the communities we serve — she is an inspiration to all,” a Baylor Scott & White spokesperson wrote in a statement. “It has long been our priority to help her life’s work live on.”

Weisbrod once again criticized Texas’ $250,000 cap on the noneconomic damages a plaintiff can receive in medical negligence lawsuits. He called specifically on Republican lawmakers in the state to work towards raising the limit to $500,000, or at least adjust it for inflation.

“This should be a bipartisan issue so that anyone who has a loved one that is killed as a result of medical malpractice is not constrained by an onerous, unfair cap,” he said.

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.