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Barbara Dawson’s Death

Barbara Dawson's death

Barbara Dawson’s Death

On Dec. 21, 2015,  57 year old Barbara Dawson died at a Florida hospital. In and of itself, that wouldn’t make headlines, but she died hours after being after being forcibly discharged from the same hospital. The hospital and the police department are being sued by the family’s attorney for her death.

My sincere condolences to the family and friends of Barbara for their loss. It was sudden and untimely.

Barbara Dawson's Untimely Death

Barbara was discharged from the ED prior to collapsing in the parking lot

It’s unimaginably hard to deal with the tragic and unexpected death of a loved one and to want a reason why….but was the hospital or law enforcement to blame for her death?

Sequence of Events

The timing of what happened is critical, because Barbara was treated in the ED, discharged against her will, and subsequently collapsed in the parking lot. According to news sources:

  • Barbara went to the ED, was evaluated and discharged
  • Barbara did not want to be discharged, and the hospital called the police with complaints of disorderly conduct and trespassing
  • Law enforcement responded and handcuffed Barbara in the hospital parking lot
  • Barbara  collapsed while being escorted out, was re-admitted, and died within one to two hours in the hospital of a massive pulmonary embolus (PE).

Medical Care

PEs are one of the relatively few causes of sudden death. PEs can be immediate, fatal, and strike without warning symptoms.

Barbara Dawson's Untimely Death

Police handcuffed Barbara Dawson.

Some news sources report Barbara went to the ED for abdominal pain, others for breathing problems. Did any of her symptoms lead to a differential diagnosis of PE? If so, was enough done to rule out a PE?  If not, then there was not cause to work her up for a PE.

The abdominal pain (reported as her presenting complaint in some news sources) could have been unrelated, or could have been an atypical presentation of PE that was not recognized, or could have been a complete and tragic coincidence.

If PE had been considered as a differential diagnosis, would a diagnosis and treatment have affected the outcome? PEs are often not preventable and it is possible to have normal vital signs and oxygen saturation levels immediately prior to a PE.

Until more details of her care are released, judgement is on hold regarding the medical care she received. My thoughts go out to the ED doctor(s) and nurses involved in the case, who undoubtedly are traumatized by what happened.

Lack of Compassion

dash cam police video captured inappropriate remarks directed towards Barbara when she was asking for help. Listening to policemen and a hospital staffer accuse her of faking her collapse is disturbing when in fact, she was experiencing a PE and was near death.

According to reports, the circumstance surrounding Barbara Dawson’s death are that she died while being escorted out of the hospital against her will, while in handcuffs  and while pleading “Don’t let me die”. She sounds genuinely panicked and in distress. Anxiety is a symptom of PE but policeman are not trained in healthcare.

At some point in the parking lot, she slumped down on the pavement which was seen as a “dead weight” ploy rather than a collapse from a medical condition.

While the hospital did not provide video tape of the event, three hospital employees were removed from duty for lack of compassion towards Barbara.

Barbara’s History

Sources say that police had been called to the hospital on other occasions due to Barbara’s behavior. The hospital has not said what Barbara’s behavior in the past was, but hospital policy is that law enforcement can be called if  “there (is) cause for concern about other patients’ care or safety”.

If a patient behaves badly, do professionals unconsciously begin to respond to them in a different way? Is it possible that the hospital took a dismissive approach to Barbara because she was a known difficult patient? Would the ED doctor have maintained a higher index of suspicion in another patient?

Once a policeman is dispatched to apprehend a patient for disorderly conduct, does tunnel vision ensue? Could symptoms of medical distress could be seen as hysterical behavior?

The danger we all have to be aware of is that of becoming burned out and jaded, which can eventually affect clinical judgement.

[Tweet “When we label people, we no longer see the whole person”]

Was it a tragic coincidence that she had a PE unrelated to her reason for visit, or was there negligence? These are the questions raised by Barbara’s family that will be settled in court.


There was definitely unprofessional behavior which was disrespectful and naturally angered the family.

Barbara Dawsons deathWe don’t know if there was negligence. Some believe that because Barbara was a “frequent flyer” the staff was indifferent. Others maintain that Barbara was treated appropriately and released.

But all we have for sure so far are an unfortunate death, hindsight, and some, but not all, of the evidence. Let’s wait for all the facts. RIP Barbara Dawson.

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Until next time friend,

Nurse Beth

Come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at for all kinds of  entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question 🙂


About Beth Hawkes (146 Articles)
Nice to meet you! I'm a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in acute care, a writer, speaker and career columnist.

9 Comments on Barbara Dawson’s Death

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this article Beth. As a healthcare worker (Physical Therapist) I do know what it is like to feel burnt out, yet patient care should never be lacking. I am familiar with “frequent flyers” but I always exercise caution when judging or reaching a conclusion when a person’s health can change at any moment. Although most patients are not 270 lbs, her weight should have factored into her care since she is in the very high risk category. Since Barbara complained of stomach pain, I wonder if they had checked for an abdominal (aortic) aneurysm and if so, would they have then seen the PE? Had she weighed 120 lbs. would she have been treated better or differently?
    It’s a very sad story and like Joe mentioned (here in the comments) there are two sides of it. Even with both sides lawyering up, that doesn’t fix the underlying problem(s).

    • Yes…many things make you wonder all the different ways this went wrong. I also feel for all the healthcare workers who came in contact with Barbara that day…it’s a wake-up call for all of us.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Beth and I appreciate the other comments here. All of us healthcare providers are at risk of being hardened and burnt out. While it may be helpful for the hospital to do training to cultivate caring as you suggest Anne – I think a greater investigation can look at the working conditions and patient ratios. If we treat our staff well to provide safe patient care, we can optimize caring.

  3. We don’t know if there was negligence. Some believe that because Barbara was a “frequent flyer” the staff was indifferent. Others maintain that Barbara was treated appropriately and released. But all we have for sure so far are an unfortunate death, hindsight, and some, but not all, of the evidence. Let’s wait for all the facts. RIP Barbara Dawson.
    As an ED Nurse, I am sorry to read this article and saddened by how this patient was treated. There is a better way. There must be. I know ED nurses are hardened and sometimes forget that despite a person being a frequent flyer, they are still a person and deserve respect. This is a no win situation and the hospital (in my opinion) is at fault and will be involved in a costly law-suit. They should settle and start the process of educating their staff to instill a culture of caring.
    As for the police, they were in a hard spot, but also need training that any people who exhibits these symptoms should be re-evaluated by the hospital. They should not be put into this position by any healthcare professional. Very sad for the profession but a tradegy for the patient/family.

    • When I heard the audio of the dash cam, it really affected me. I understand ED staff and policeman, too, are overworked and taken advantage of. But I hope I wouldn’t have reacted as they did, and never do.

    • Well spoken, we all know there is at least 2 sides to a story, many times more .. I don’t believe all the truth will come out in this incident. hospitals and the police are each known for hiding the truth – sadly
      There IS a better way – remove the insurance companies and bean counters from Healthcare, returning it to where it should have stayed .. .. ..

    • I agree, this is sad. All I could think is I hope i would have acted differently if it were me.

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