WARNING: There is no humor in Patient Dumping, but please read on.
In spite of my desire to post amusing, humorous stories, I have been prompted to take a more serious vein once again. I’d apologize, but I’m trying hard to give that up.
My brother Jeff Larkin lived in Houston. He had his own road, and he chose it himself, for the most part. It wasn’t a life I would have chosen, as a summary, since it included drugs, jail, and losing contact with a daughter he loved. So my Mom and I were relieved in January of 2009 when, after living in a friend’s garage for several months, he was given a Section 8 housing apartment.
Jeff’s health by this time was in serious decline, although we didn’t realize the degree of “serious” until he admitted he had liver problems. Cancer. He subsequently told Mom that he had COPD, as well, and she had been sending him her own prescription inhalers until his Medicaid could be reinstated.
In May my Mother called me to encourage my help. I did not, and had not, spoken regularly to Jeff since I was in college. His addictions, and his subsequent scams to get money, were too much for me to take. Regular pretenses of getting help were always a sham, and I opted for tough love, something that is much more difficult for mothers to do, I should add.
So this time Mom was calling, and she knew I’d be a hard sell. Her admission that she couldn’t get Jeff to answer his phone was pretty alarming. His lifeline to home was very extraordinarily important to him. So I agreed to call and she game me the new number.
He didn’t answer my call, either, so I started leaving a message on his machine. After a minute, he picked up before I could finish recording! He sounded awful. Ghastly, to be sure. Gasping and wheezing, it was clear he could barely speak. He said he couldn’t talk [obvious] but he’d call me back. Relieved he was there, I said okay but said for him to listen for just a second. My fear for him was welling up, and I didn’t want to break the telephone link. I told him Mom was worried, WE were worried, that Mom had updated me on his condition. Pretty scary stuff, I said, but after hearing him talk I told him he really needed to call 9-1-1. Now. He needed to do it now. If he couldn’t breathe, he needed help immediately. I heard his labored breath, so I knew he’d heard me, so I told him I loved him and we’d talk as soon as he could manage. Hanging up was hell.
He took my advice, for maybe the second time in his life. The first was when we were babies and I told him not to stick his finger in the electric socket after he’d managed to unscrew the faceplate. He didn’t, but he got me to do it. Anyway, I reported back to my Mom and I didn’t hear anything else that day. We got online to figure out how to either get him to Florida here with us, or get to him in Texas.
The next news was that he’d passed away.
Mom said she’d gotten a call that day I’d spoken to Jeff, not from him but from Hermann Memorial Hospital in Houston. Jeff was at the ER, but they wouldn’t admit him without money up front, so they’d called her. She’d quickly given them her credit card over the phone. That was on a Monday. She waited to hear more, but nothing from the hospital. We tried to be patient, since we knew he couldn’t talk himself, and the hospital said they couldn’t confirm his admission without my mother being listed as his health surrogate. They could take her money, sure, but then they cut her off.
So she finally, on Wednesday, had tracked down one of his friends, who confirmed that Jeff was back at his apartment! Whoa, we thought, he must’ve gotten a helluva lot better pretty fast. But Jeff still didn’t answer his phone. So being a tiger mom at this point, Mom tracked down the apartment manager who kindly reported he was in his apartment but couldn’t talk on the phone, he had a friend taking care of him. Relieved people were looking after him, Mom let Thursday pass. But her call to the apartment manager on Friday revealed the truth. Jeff had passed away the night before, alone and unattended. He quite obviously had had no business leaving the hospital.
I made the trip to Houston as quickly as I could. Mom couldn’t leave my invalid father, although she really did want to come along. That entire episode is worthy of an entirely separate post for another time. Part of that discovery, however, was that Jeff’s friend said that Jeff had never been admitted to the hospital. Never. After they’d taken Mom’s payment, they’d quickly put him out to the bus stop, without a wheelchair [he couldn’t breathe much less walk] or shoes or any means to get home. Somehow someone had contacted his friend, who’d driven him home. This entire time we’d thought he was getting medical care, he was a his apartment slowly succumbing to cancer and emphysema.
Outraged, I began at first inquiring, then pestering, then uttering dire legal threats at the managers of the ER, hospital, and finally the Better Business Bureau. Since there was no fixing a death, the BBB made them return my mother’s money. Jeff had his Medicaid almost approved, and indeed the hospital had been paid for his past visits as well as the last one in the ER.
My hands are still shaking with rage and impotence that I couldn’t get there, couldn’t know how his life was ending. That he was left on the curb to the whims of chance.
If you’ve not see the Washington Post story today, January 11, 2018, about a Maryland hospital doing exactly the same thing to an indigent woman, please read this: