This morning, I was awoken by a phone call. I knew even before I answered the news I would receive. Chris Dunn’s brave fight for his life at Houston Methodist Hospital had reached an end. Since the first moment Chris’s mother, Evelyn, called Texas Right to Life for help, we, as patient advocates, have been doing everything possible to ensure that the hospital never removed Chris from life-sustaining care.
As a patient advocate, I’ve spoken with far too many families experiencing this extremely difficult process. However, Chris’s case became particularly personal. Over the course of several weeks, I’d spent many hours visiting Chris and Evelyn at the hospital and talking with Evelyn on the phone. Our friendship developed during this nightmarish time for their family.
When I received the call, I rushed to the hospital to provide any comfort I could to Evelyn. My last visit to the hospital had been rather eventful. I had been escorted off hospital property after visiting Chris’s room with a media photographer. We were removed by security even though both of us were present with Evelyn’s permission. I had never behaved the least bit aggressively toward hospital staff and was cooperative in leaving the building. I asked the staff if this meant that I was not allowed to return to the hospital, and they said they did not know.
Texas Right to Life is a state-recognized and authorized patient advocate. Patients and their families receive our contact information when they receive notice that the hospital will remove care in ten days, pursuant to the draconian Texas Advance Directives Act. As such, I and other staff should be granted access to the patient and medical decision-makers when they request us.
This morning, as I attempted to visit the family and provide comfort to Evelyn, I went back to the visitor check-in desk at the small unit where Chris had stayed. I told the staff I wished to visit Evelyn Kelly, and they told me to take a seat in the waiting room. This seemed like standard procedure. Almost immediately, a police officer arrived and told me, “You were told not to return here.” She continued, “You have to leave, this is a warning of criminal trespassing. If you return, you will be arrested.”
I left quietly and peacefully, and thankfully I was able to speak with Evelyn on a sidewalk outside the hospital. While the sidewalk was certainly not an ideal environment for comfort, I was still able to give her a hug and ensure her of our continued prayers for her family.
This callousness of Houston Methodist Hospital has left me with many questions, and I am puzzled as to how they think they were justified in their actions. How can Methodist bar a peaceful visitor, present at the request of the family? How can Methodist give me a warning of criminal trespassing when they have never given me any written explanation of my supposed violation and never told me I was not to return? Suppose I have loved ones with the misfortune of being admitted to Houston Methodist in the future; am I barred from visiting them as well? Does this mean that members of Texas Right to Life staff can be barred from Houston Methodist? Such exclusion would prevent Texas Right to Life from fulfilling our state authorized role of acting as patient advocates.
Of course, my primary concern is still Chris’s family. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with them during this time. How unfortunate that their grief was met with a lack of compassionate understanding by the hospital. I hope that the policies of the hospital do not similarly place other patients, their families, and their advocates in these unfortunate circumstances.