Man's partner angry at hospital

Shock Trauma kept him from his dying mate, complaint says

Officials deny insensitivity

February 28, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Robert Lee "Bobby" Daniel was so frightened of dying alone in a hospital of AIDS, with his suffering prolonged by doctors shoving tubes down his throat and hooking him up to life-support machines, that he went to a lawyer and drafted a document.

The document gave his gay partner, William Robert Flanigan Jr., the "power of attorney" to make medical decisions for his housemate. It specified that Daniel didn't want any life-sustaining treatment and that Flanigan should be by his side.

But Daniel's anxieties about a lonely and prolonged death became a reality in October 2000, when Maryland Shock Trauma Center barred Flanigan from his partner's room because he was not "family," according to a legal claim that Flanigan filed against the hospital yesterday.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section incorrectly stated that the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations directs hospitals not to require the domestic partners of patients to present legal documents outlining the partners' power of attorney for making health care decisions. In fact, the organization advises hospitals to use a liberal definition of family when allowing partners and others to visit patients in hospital rooms. But it does not discourage hospitals from asking for legal documents. The Sun regrets the error.

Because Flanigan was not present during Daniel's final four hours of consciousness, Flanigan could not tell the doctors that his partner did not want breathing tubes or a respirator. Daniel tried to rip the tubes out of his throat until staff members restrained his arms, according to Flanigan and his attorney, David Buckel of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay-rights group.

"My son Bobby not only suffered in his final hours, but he suffered alone," his mother, Grace Daniel, said during a news conference yesterday at the Baltimore Holiday Inn. "He was denied the love and comfort of the person he loved the most. "

Hospital officials said yesterday that a preliminary review found "nothing to substantiate" Flanigan's allegations.

"We deliver high-quality, compassionate care to every patient, with sensitivity to the wishes of our patients and their loved ones," said Ellen Beth Levitt, director of media relations for the University of Maryland Medical System.

The hospital's policy says people not related to patients by blood or marriage should be allowed to visit patient rooms if they have power-of-attorney documents or the approval of relatives.

But medical centers shouldn't require the patients' domestic partners to present legal documents, according to Charlene Hill, spokeswoman for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

The commission, which sets standards that hospitals must follow to receive federal funding, defines "family" as "any person who plays a significant role in a person's life," Hill said.

But gay people in Baltimore and elsewhere frequently complain that they have to argue their way into their partners' hospital rooms and present legal justification for their presence, said Aimee Darrow, community outreach chairwoman for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland.

It wasn't clear yesterday what happened to the power-of-attorney document that should have dictated the conditions of Daniel's final days. Flanigan provided The Sun a copy of the document, which was signed and dated Sept. 9, 1996.

Daniel, a 34-year-old social worker who had been suffering from AIDS for nine years, and Flanigan, a 34-year-old real estate agent, owned a house together in San Francisco.

While driving to visit Daniel's sister in Northern Virginia, Daniel's breathing became labored, and on Oct. 15, 2000, he checked himself into Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, north of Baltimore.

Flanigan said he gave the document to Harford hospital officials, who treated him as Daniel's partner and let him sleep in a chair overnight in Daniel's room.

Daniel's condition deteriorated, and he suffered multiple organ failure. On Oct. 16, Daniel was transferred with his medical records to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Arriving at Shock Trauma about 6:30 p.m., Flanigan said, he told hospital admission employees that he wanted to see his partner and talk to Daniel's doctors. But an employee told Flanigan he could not go to Daniel's room because he was not family "and that `partners' did not qualify," according to the complaint filed with the Maryland Health Claims Arbitration Office, which screens lawsuits before they can be tried in court.

During a series of emotional exchanges in which he pleaded to see his partner, Flanigan repeatedly told hospital employees that he had power of attorney that authorized him to serve as Daniel's spokesman, he said. Flanigan told an official that the hospital should have a copy of the document because it should have been in the medical records transferred from the Harford hospital. Flanigan had another copy in his car that he could have produced if necessary, his attorney said. But the employees kept putting off Flanigan, according to the complaint.

For four hours, hospital employees would not let him up to his partner's room or discuss Daniel's medical condition, Flanigan said.

But as soon as Daniel's mother arrived from New Mexico about 10:30 p.m., hospital officials allowed her to escort Flanigan to see his partner, Flanigan said. By that time, Daniel had slipped into unconsciousness and had tape over his eyes.

"I never got to say goodbye," Flanigan said.

Daniel never regained consciousness and died of an infection and complications from acquired immune deficiency syndrome Oct. 19, according to the complaint.

Levitt said hospital administrators could not find a copy of Daniel's power-of-attorney document yesterday and that it might not have been transferred from the Harford hospital.

"According to state law, someone who says he is a guardian or has power of attorney for health care must present documentation of those wishes," Levitt said. "Otherwise, we rely on family."

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