Every year between June and September we are contacted by parents who have children that have turned age 18 and are going off to college. I have written in the past about the importance of parents having their child execute a power of attorney and health care directive because upon reaching the age of majority parents can no longer make financial and medical decisions for that child.
One parent told me that she had read a story that reinforced the importance of getting these documents in place before her daughter went off to school. I hadn’t heard this particular story so I asked her to send it to me.
Alyssa was a senior in high school when she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm on Christmas Day. She was taken to the Mayo Clinic, a nationally well known medical facility in Rochester, Minnesota where neurosurgeons saved her life but her road to recovery was a long one. Two months later she was still at the Mayo Clinic in the midst of rehabilitation. Her family, however, had disagreements with the hospital staff about the course of her rehab and asked for Alyssa to be transferred to another facility. Their requests were refused. As a result instead, they suspected that the hospital was trying to have a guardian appointed to make medical decisions for Alyssa which the hospital later admitted.
Alyssa’s mother and stepfather focused on trying to get her out of the Mayo Clinic which wasn’t easy because she had two nurses watching her at all times. They eventually devised a plan. Alyssa’s 80 year old great grandmother, Betty had come for a visit. Her stepfather told the staff that because Betty had difficulty walking he wanted to take Alyssa downstairs to meet her.
The staff agreed but the nurses went with them downstairs. Instead of meeting Betty in the lobby, Alyssa’s mom was outside waiting in her car to pull off the escape. The nurses tried to restrain Alyssa but they were able to make their getaway. The crazy story doesn’t, however, end there .
The Mayo Clinic called the police to report a patient abduction. Hospital personnel told police that Alyssa could not make medical decisions for herself and that her mom could not care for her because she had mental health issues, although the social worker who made the statement about Alyssa’s mom admitted that she was not aware of any formal diagnosis.
Staffers at the Mayo Clinic also told the police what Alyssa’s parents had suspected – that they had tried unsuccessfully in 2 counties to get a court order of emergency guardianship because they were concerned about the medical decisions Alyssa’s mother was making for Alyssa. The detective, however, recognized that it didn’t all add up. If the hospital insisted that Alyssa couldn’t make decisions for herself, her mother was unable to make those decisions and she needed a legal guardian, then who had been making decisions up to that point? The answer is that the staff admitted that Alyssa had been making her own decisions. When the detective heard this he recognized that there was no patient abduction. Alyssa had decision making capacity and willingly participated in the plan to leave the Mayo Clinic.
The police, however, still had to address a second concern. The hospital insisted that Alyssa would die if she did not get to a hospital. The Mayo Clinic requested a 72 hour hold which allows the police to admit someone to a hospital against their will if they are deemed to be a danger to themselves.
Minnesota police began a search for Alyssa. Her parents were reluctant to bring her to another Minnesota hospital because they feared it would be a Mayo Clinic hospital and they would be back where they didn’t want Alyssa to be. Instead they made their way across the state line to South Dakota and checked Alyssa in to a hospital there. They related Alyssa’s medical history. Doctors there disagreed with the Mayo Clinic that she needed to be in a hospital. In their opinion, Alyssa could go home. The South Dakota doctors also came to the opposite conclusion as to competency. They felt that Alyssa had mental capacity, therefore, she could sign the papers authorizing her own release. Once the police learned of the difference of medical opinion in their minds it no longer was a police or legal matter. If two doctors disagree about a course of treatment the police aren’t and shouldn’t be involved.
Alyssa went home and continued her recovery. A year later she had finished her therapy and is enrolled in college this fall. The experience she and her parents went through is every parent’s nightmare. So what went wrong and what steps could have been taken to avoid it? I’ll talk about that in next week’s post.