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July 3, 2013

County, Jameson to pay $143,500 in bagel case

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County and Jameson Hospital are splitting a settlement following the taking of an infant over a drug test.

Under a settlement agreement, the county and hospital are paying $143,500 in damages and legal fees in the case that involved a woman who ate a bagel with poppy seeds shortly before giving birth. A federal lawsuit in the cases was formally dismissed Tuesday as a result of the settlement.

The woman, Elizabeth Mort, was tested for drugs at Jameson in April 2010 at the time of the birth of her daughter. The test came back positive for opiates. As a result of that test, Jameson personnel contacted Lawrence County Children and Youth Services, which obtained a court order to remove the infant from the custody of her parents, Alexander Rodriguez and Mort.

According to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the couple by the Pittsburgh office of the American Civil Liberties Union, the positive drug test was the result of a bagel Mort consumed prior to giving birth. The complaint noted subsequent testing showed no opiates in Mort’s system and testing also found no drugs in the infant girl.

The lawsuit said the infant was placed in foster care for five days before being returned to her family.

Commenting on the matter Tuesday, Sara J. Rose, an ACLU attorney who represented Mort and Rodriguez, said, “We are pleased that we were able to resolve the case.”

Rose said that was particularly because of policy changes agreed to by Jameson and children and youth services. “This should go a long way toward preventing injustices from happening in the future,” she added

In Mort’s case, Rose said, the infant was removed from the home solely on the evidence from testing a single sample from Mort. No effort was made by either the hospital or county to talk to the mother or her doctor about the test results or what might have caused them, she said. It’s conceivable, she continued, the result could have been from prescribed medication the hospital was not aware of.

Instead, Rose described an “extremely distressing” scenario where authorities showed up at the family’s home and removed the infant without notice.

As a result of the settlement, Rose said, Jameson has agreed to alter its procedures. Now, the hospital will call children and youth services only if there is a positive test for the infant. Rose said that a mother’s eating of a bagel should not produce a positive result in an infant at birth.

She added there also would be follow-ups by the hospital to determine the source of the positive drug result.

Rose claimed many medical associations do not recommend routine drug testing of women who are giving birth. Such testing, she said, is viewed as intrusive and “not cost-effective.”

In addition, Rose said, the settlement obliges children and youth services to change its procedures should a similar case arise. Now, the agency will seek to contact the parents before pursuing a court order to remove the child.

Regarding the payments in the case, Rose said $70,000 is for damages that will go to the family. The remaining $73,500 is for the ACLU’s legal fees.

Children and youth services is responsible for $73,000 of the payment, while Jameson must cover $70,500, Rose said.

When asked about the settlement, Dan Vogler, Lawrence County commissioner chairman, said he has a standing practice not to comment on legal matters involving the county.

Nicole Hunter, spokeswoman for Jameson Hospital, said, “We do not have any further comment.”

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