WASHINGTON – A San Francisco man Wednesday sued the University of Maryland Medical Systems, claiming he was not permitted to see his partner who died at the Shock Trauma Center from AIDS-related complications.
Bill Flanigan sued for negligence and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, after he was turned away by hospital officials in October 2000, leaving his partner of five years to spend his last hours of consciousness alone.
Flanigan said he was turned away even though he had documents granting him power of attorney for Robert Daniel’s health-care decisions.
“We don’t accept partners. You’re not family. Only family is allowed in shock trauma,” Flanigan said reception-area attendants told him.
The medical center said in a statement Wednesday that it had not received the lawsuit and could not respond to specific allegations.
“We have begun a thorough review of the records in this case,” the statement said. “In our preliminary review, we have found nothing that substantiates these allegations.”
But a spokeswoman, when informed of the suit Tuesday evening, called the medical center “a very compassionate organization, so I’d be very surprised,” by the charges in the suit.
Flanigan and Daniel were nearing the end of a long cross-country trip in October 2000 when Daniel went into diabetic shock, a complication of AIDS. They went to the nearest hospital, Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, where Daniel was found to have multiple organ failure. He was taken to the Shock Trauma Center, with Flanigan following in the couple’s car.
But when Flanigan arrived at the trauma center, he was not permitted to see his dying partner or talk to physicians.
“This was the biggest fear of our lives that this would happen,” Flanigan said, adding that they had gone to great lengths to ensure that it would not. Flanigan had legal documentation deeming him responsible for Daniel’s health care decisions and noting that they were registered domestic partners in California.
“I was always the communication piece in hospitals,” Flanigan said. “I was always the one who told him it was OK.”
Harford Memorial Hospital had honored the documents and included them in the file they sent to the Shock Trauma Center with Daniel.
“He needed me there to make sure his treatment wishes were followed,” Flanigan said, including his desire that life-prolonging measures not be performed on him.
It was not until Daniel’s sister and mother arrived four hours later that Flanigan was finally permitted to see Daniel. By that time Daniel was unconscious, his eyes were taped shut, and a breathing tube had been inserted — something Flanigan said Daniel would not have wanted.
Daniel died three days later.
His mother, Grace Daniel, said she supported Flanigan’s lawsuit.
“Through all of Bobby’s health problems, Bill was always there for Bobby, always,” she said Wednesday. “My son Bobby not only suffered in his final hours, but he suffered alone.”
The suit is being handled for free by the Washington firm Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay-rights legal organization.
Lambda attorney David Buckel said all Maryland hospitals must be accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations to operate. Accreditation standards require that a hospital involve the family in the treatment of a patient. Buckel said family may include people not legally related to the individual, including people “who play a significant role in” the patient’s life.
The hospital said in its statement that it relies on family members unless the person claiming to be a guardian or to have power of attorney can present documentation to prove it.