A Westbrook couple has sued Mercy Hospital in Portland, seen in 2021, and its parent company, Northern Light Health, alleging negligence. The couple alleges the hospital staff failed to diagnose and treat the husband’s leg infection before it worsened and required his leg to be amputated. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A Westbrook man has filed a malpractice lawsuit against Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland claiming that negligent medical treatment of a flesh-eating infection led to the amputation of his right leg, a heart attack and long-term health problems.

It all started when Jeffrey Kelley, who was the grounds supervisor at Southern Maine Community College, received scratches on his right calf from fish fins in a bag of trash that he collected from a barrel outside the president’s office, according to the lawsuit filed this month in Cumberland County Superior Court.

The next morning, when his leg was painful, red and swollen, Kelley went to an employee health clinic, where doctors diagnosed him with a rapidly expanding infection and potential muscle damage, the lawsuit states. Moaning from the pain and unable to stand on the leg, Kelley was referred to Mercy Hospital’s emergency department, where he arrived shortly before 9 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2022.

By then Kelley had signs and symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating disease, which went largely untreated for the first 24 hours he was at the hospital, the lawsuit alleges. His condition quickly worsened, with Kelley experiencing a 103-degree fever and rapid breathing.

After Kelley was admitted to the hospital around noon, an infectious disease consultant recommended that Mercy’s staff give him a high-dose mix of antibiotics. The lawsuit doesn’t say whether Kelley, then 51 years old, ever received it. His wife, Lisa Kelley, also is a plaintiff in the case.

“At no time in the emergency room did the attending physician’s assistant complete testing for necrotizing fasciitis (or related conditions),” the lawsuit states. “There is no chart entry documenting a doctor, nurse or other health care provider examining, treating, assessing, diagnosing or even talking to Jeff or Lisa that night, other than two nurses who called for assistance with Jeff.”


The next chart entry documenting Mercy staff interaction with Kelley was at 9:50 a.m. on Aug. 17. He was transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland on Aug. 19, where he remained for over two months, then to New England Rehabilitation Hospital for a month. Kelley is now home, the lawsuit states.

Suzanne Spruce, Northern Light’s senior vice president and head spokesperson, declined an interview request Friday.

“We disagree with the allegations in the complaint and will provide no further comment at this time,” Spruce said in a statement.

The lawsuit charges Mercy and its parent, Northern Light Health, with negligent and careless evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly in the body and can cause death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic treatment and prompt surgery are important to stopping the infection, the CDC states. The agency recommends seeing a doctor immediately if skin becomes red, warm, swollen or very painful soon after an injury or surgery.

The lawsuit also alleges that Mercy was negligent in treating Kelley for sepsis, which the CDC defines as the body’s extreme response to an infection that often starts in lungs, urinary tract, skin or gastrointestinal tract and can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.


The Kelleys also claim that Mercy delayed administering medication, failed to request surgical or infectious disease consultations and didn’t test when necessary for flesh-eating disease or compartment syndrome, which occurs when blood fails to reach a group of muscles and they die, according to the CDC.

Ken Hovermale, the Kelleys’ lead attorney, said Friday that he couldn’t answer questions about the lawsuit at this time, including whether the Kelleys had or planned to pursue compensation from SMCC. College officials also declined to comment.

Filed Feb. 14, the complaint seeks a jury trial for damages including Kelley’s successive surgeries and amputations, lost wages and future earning capacity, and past and future medical expenses.

“All of which are expected to continue into the future indefinitely,” the lawsuit states, along with the couple’s shared suffering and losses.

The lawsuit claims in particular that Mercy staff failed to respond for nearly 12 hours to a nurse’s call for assistance at 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 16, when it was noted that Kelley had “significantly worsening” signs of disease.

When Mercy staff interactions with Kelley resumed around 9:50 a.m. Aug. 17, an examining doctor “confirmed the findings from the night before, noted rapidly advancing tissue necrosis, probable compartment syndrome and called for a repeat CT scan (and) general surgical and orthopedic consults,” the lawsuit states. The scan and orthopedic consult occurred that afternoon.

According to the lawsuit, the orthopedic surgeon told the Kelleys it was a “true surgical emergency” and that evening performed a fasciotomy, which the National Institutes of Health defines as a procedure to relieve muscle compartment pressure that can cause muscle and nerve necrosis.

By Aug. 19, Kelley had developed acute hypoxic respiratory failure and a chest X-ray confirmed he had too much fluid in his lungs, the lawsuit states. He also was diagnosed with a non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction, which is a heart attack that usually happens when the heart’s need for oxygen can’t be met and it doesn’t have an easily identifiable electrical pattern, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Kelley was transferred that day to Maine Medical Center, where he underwent multiple surgeries over several weeks, including three right leg excisions and debridements to remove damaged tissue, the removal of his right foot and ankle, two below-knee amputations and, finally, an above-knee amputation on Nov. 3, 2022.

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