Indiana family denied end-of-life hospital visit debates lawsuit

Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — A grieving family is preparing to sue Franciscan Alliance after learning a new Indiana law should have allowed them to visit their loved one before death.

The wife of this patient says it was clear he was near the end of his life, but the hospital refused to let her say goodbye in person.

His sister-in-law, Beth Tollison agreed to speak for the family on camera Friday.

“She just wanted to be with him, and he so wanted to be with her,” said Tollison. “He kept telling her I’m waiting for you, I’m waiting for you.”

Jim Houpt’s dying wish of seeing his wife was never granted because Franciscan Alliance didn’t allow it.

“He had been in the hospital for about a week,” said Tollison.

When he was admitted he had COVID-19. Franciscan Health’s visitation policy states patients who are at the end-of-life stage are allowed a visitor in a patient’s room even during the pandemic. For patients with COVID-19, that one visitor must wear full personal protective equipment. Tollison said her sister would have done anything just to see him one last time.

She doesn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed that final visit.

“He was already at the end of his life before the COVID diagnosis because he had in stage pulmonary fibrosis,” explained Tollison. “They were calling my sister on a daily basis and saying we can’t keep his blood oxygen saturations out of the 60s and 70s which is very low, very dangerous.”

She said even the hospital told his wife he wasn’t going to make it but still wouldn’t allow a visit.

“She was begging and pleading, I was there some of the time that she was on the phone with everybody she could possibly find to contact begging and pleading to have a visit with him,” said Tollison.

Franciscan Health wouldn’t tell us why this patient didn’t get a visitor.

A Franciscan Spokesperson sent a statement saying, “Visitor restrictions have been in place at our hospital since the start of the pandemic in mid-March 2020. Due to federal and state regulations regarding the disclosure of our patients’ personal health information, we are unable to comment.”

The family didn’t get answers either.

“The only thing that she was told was that they would not allow him to come out of isolation,” said Tollison.

After denying countless pleas just hours earlier, she said the hospital called to say he died.

“And at that point, they offered her a visit with him,” said Tollison. “Which was just insulting in a way.”

Indiana State Sen. Linda Rogers believes her law, Senate Enrolled Act 202, which went into effect last week should have required the hospital to grant visitation.

“My heart goes out to this family and this is why the legislation was written,” said Rogers.

There’s no penalty for hospitals not following this law, at this point.

“You hope that people will follow the law but certainly if we find that there are still significant issues, if hospitals choose not to follow the law, or long-term care facilities, that may be coming in the future if people don’t want to comply,” said Sen. Rogers.

However, Rogers said it could open up legal action. This family does plan to sue with hopes it will help others avoid this pain.

“This has to stop,” said Tollison. “I think they need to understand that there will be a penalty if they ignore obvious signs that someone is coming to the end of their life because they just don’t sense that that person is going to die in the next few hours. They have to have some pressure on that decision to realize you cannot wait until the last minute. It was too late and that’s not something they can fix now. She can never get that time back with him.”

We asked Franciscan what constitutes an end-of-life situation.

“While we are unable to speak to the details of any specific case, end-of-life designation is typically based on the guidance from the clinical team(s) involved in a patient’s care,” said Spokesperson Joe Stuteville.

Rogers advised the family to report this case to the Indiana Department of Health. She’s hopeful the department will make sure they are aware and follow the law.

Tollison said her sister already made the report.

“I don’t know the details of that conversation, but they did say we can’t necessarily tell you that there is going to be any action taken as a result of this, but we’ve made note of it,” said Tollison. “It wasn’t really encouraging.”

We followed up with the ISDH to confirm and find out next steps. “I’m sorry, but we cannot comment on individual cases,” said an ISDH Spokesperson.

The family also wants to stress the importance of simply checking online right now to see hospital visitation policies before admitting a loved one. They realized after the fact that hospitals nearby have a lot less strict COVID-19 visitation rules.

“It’s hard to understand how can one hospital be so far off another hospital in terms of what they would allow,” said Tollison.

No matter what the policy, this new law should protect all Hoosier patients from dying alone.

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