A former nurse is taking legal action against a Victorian hospital where she sustained physical and mental injuries trying to extinguish a fire that started on an older patient’s face.
Marilyn Espinola was working at Sunshine Hospital in St Albans in 2020 when she was forced to help put out a fire that started on an older patient – who was still conscious – during a bilateral temporal arterial biopsy surgery.
When the surgeon shouted “fire”, Ms Espinola saw the patient’s hospital garments in flames and the patient crying out in pain.
“Everyone was screaming to turn the oxygen off […] at that point, I just thought, we’re going to die. The fire was on my foot and the oxygen was on next to me,” Ms Espinola told News.com.au.
When rushing out of the room to get water, Ms Espinola fell and injured her ankle but didn’t register the severity of the damage until later once the adrenaline had worn off and the fire was out.
The patient was transferred to the Alfred Hospital’s burns unit and required multiple surgeries to her face, neck, jaw and one of her hands.
Ms Espinola was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and major depression and has been experiencing panic attacks three to four times a week since.
Now, Ms Espinola is suing the hospital, claiming her injury was mishandled and deceiving. She alleges her WorkCover claim paperwork was submitted by the hospital 18 months after the incident and that she was asked to repay the leave she took for her injury. The incident was not included in WorkSafe Victoria’s initial investigation – Ms Espinola believes the hospital delayed notifying it of the incident’s details in order to avoid a thorough investigation.
“I would actually like them to stretch out the investigation, that’s what is very hurtful for me, that there is no investigation done and that they seem to have swept it under the rug, the whole incident,” Ms Espinola said.
Ms Espinola’s Solicitor, Erin Jobling, said hospital staff should have known the fire risks associated with this type of procedure and is seeking compensation for her client.
“As a result of witnessing this incident, our client is unable to return to her career as a nurse, and her trauma symptoms continue to impact her daily life.”
Western Health, which runs Sunshine Hospital, has yet to comment on the matter due to confidentiality and legal proceedings.