In survivor’s case, protocol trumped common sense

Let’s Talk About it

Bonnie Sandler

A client in his late 80s recently landed in a hospital’s emergency unit, where he was diagnosed with dementia. He was eventually admitted to the geriatric floor, whereupon he demanded to return to his apartment. The doctors concluded that it was unsafe for him to return home. A court order, issued on a Friday, declared the man remain in hospital for 30 days under the supervision of a private sitter, paid for by the hospital. Escape would have been quite a feat for this man, a Holocaust survivor who now weighed less than 100 pounds and had no money.

The patient enjoyed the 24-hour company of the private sitter and calmed down. When a family member arrived to visit on a Monday afternoon, she met with the social worker to discuss the situation and plan a move to a care facility. A social worker visited the patient to ask if he wanted to go home. He replied as expected, “Sure I want to go home.” The social worker then asked if he wanted to go before a judge to ask to go home. With little understanding, the patient replied, “Of course I do.” The patient had no idea he was served court papers, nor any understanding of the process.

The family member found the notice from the hospital legal department in a drawer next to the patient’s bed, clearly unread by the patient. There was a copy of the mandate in the patient’s file along with the family’s contact information, yet no one had contacted her about the legal proceeding and its option for the patient to go to court. At 4:30 p.m. on Monday, the family member discovered the court’s “notice to appear” by chance. The social worker informed the family that the patient would be taken to court to present his case before a judge the following morning. Two family members arrived the following morning for the court date just as two uniformed security guards approached the patient’s room.

The family was advised it was hospital protocol. There was no consideration that this frail patient was a Holocaust survivor and might be terrified of uniformed guards. Fortunately, although generally confused about the whole ordeal, he did not react badly. Unfortunately, they escorted him to the wrong courthouse.

Questions I want hospital staff to answer: Why was the family not informed of the patient being served with “notice to appear” in court, especially since there was a copy of the mandate on file and there had been previous communications with the family? What would have happened had the family not been visiting the afternoon before the scheduled court date? Would the patient, demented, hard of hearing and vision impaired been escorted to the court without family support? Where is the sensitivity to the individual patient’s situation, history, or culture? Why was there no forethought that a Holocaust survivor might react poorly to being escorted by uniformed guards out of the hospital? What is the purpose of having two uniformed guards assigned to a frail elderly non-violent confused patient? How does the legal department serve papers without follow-up with the family? Why was a taxi not ordered to accommodate the two family members who had to make their own way to the courthouse? How could the guards take the patient to the wrong courthouse? Why did they not have an extra taxi ticket to go to the proper courthouse? Why are individual cases not studied or is protocol simply followed? I encourage clients to file complaints in such situations. Although it is my understanding that the family intended to contact the Ombudsman, the entire situation demanded so much time and energy, the family was overwhelmed and too exhausted to file a complaint. How many of these situations occur and go unreported due to family exhaustion? I say far too many.