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Battle over guardianship highlights hospital's power

When a person becomes sick or incapacitated and is no longer able to make decisions for themselves, disputes can arise over the person's medical care. Aging Colorado residents should consider establishing legal guardianships to make sure that their medical wishes are carried out if they become incapacitated. People often choose a family member to be their guardian, but a guardian can really be anybody a person trusts to fight for their medical requests when they're unable to. In rare cases, however, a hospital can seek a guardianship for a patient - sometimes causing anger within a patient's family. If this situation occurs, it's important to have an elder law attorney on your side.

One such case is currently ongoing in Pennsylvania. An 85-year-old woman was admitted to a hospital for pneumonia, and a series of disputes over her care has resulted in an extended stay. The woman is now suffering from compromised kidney function, and she is supported by a ventilator. The woman's daughter was trained in Bosnia as a physician. After disagreeing with the hospital over several aspects of her mother's care, the hospital restricted the daughter's access to her mother and sought a court-appointed guardian for the elderly woman.

The daughter claims that the hospital used risky, questionable and experimental treatments for her mother. She was very vocal about not consenting to the procedures planned for her mother. The hospital decided that the daughter's actions went too far, stating in a letter that the daughter had demonstrated "verbally threatening behavior" with hospital staff and made "loud insulting demands." The hospital barred the daughter from even entering hospital property except during three weekly half-hour visits.

Recently, hospital staff recommended that the court-appointed guardian authorize a "do not resuscitate" order for the woman. The daughter filed a petition in court attempting to block the order, stating that her mother's living will stipulates that life-prolonging strategies should be enacted. The daughter has also petitioned to have the third-party guardianship revoked.

A medical ethics expert commenting on the case said that hospitals rarely push family aside to seek their own guardianship. When it does happen, however, hospitals often prevail in any ensuing legal disputes. Anyone who truly believes that they know what's best for an incapacitated loved one should seek a guardianship sooner rather than later.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Daughter battles UPMC for guardianship of mother" Steve Twedt, Feb. 05, 2014

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