By Corinne Murdock |
Of all that elected officials and bureaucrats took away these last two years of the pandemic, a loved one’s final “goodbyes” and “I love you’s” should’ve remained untouched. That much was made clear by Arizonans who came to testify in favor of SB1514, a bill to guarantee that patients have the right to visitation from a clergy member as well as two visitors at all times or their entire immediate family if health care providers determine that the patient will either die or lose consciousness within the next 24 hours. The bill would also prohibit health care institutions from preventing the patient from operating or possessing any communication device, and require them to pay damages of $20,000 and attorney’s fees and lawsuit costs per violation per patient.
Even with their testimonies, two senators voted against the bill in committee: State Senators Sally Ann Gonzales (D-Tucson) and Raquel Teran (D-Phoenix). The bill passed without their votes.
One man testifying in favor of the bill described how his 76-year-old father was hospitalized for mild flu-like symptoms out of caution. During his 17-day stay, the hospital prevented Kaiser or any other family members from visiting their father. Even after a doctor informed Kaiser that his father no longer had COVID-19, the hospital refused to allow visitation. Then, Kaiser recounted how his family received news suddenly that they would be permitted to see their father if they agreed to “comfort care” — when life support machines are turned off and drugs are administered to assist in a patient’s death. Kaiser noted that his father’s requests for certain treatments were denied, even the amount of vitamin C he was given: 500 milligrams, compared to the usual 1,000 when healthy and 2,000 to 3,000 when ill. The nurses told Kaiser that vitamin C wasn’t “protocol” and even health care administrators refused, rejecting Kaiser’s citations of medical studies with their own preferred studies. Kaiser noted that remdesivir, the protocol treatment, caused 60 percent of patients to experience adverse side effects like water in the lungs and organ damage. Only when they agreed to comfort care were they able to see their father. Kaiser said that the hospital’s treatment rendered his father’s physical condition “unrecognizable.”
“We learned that the same immutable adherence to protocol permeated all aspects of my father’s care. He had no effective agency [….] We were clearly beginning to see that each request was friction in a well-oiled assembly line. All requests were denied with similar responses, often followed by, ‘My hands are tied.’ While we were frequently in the care of very attentive and caring nurses, articulate and professional doctors, we quickly understood with each passing interaction that we as a family and my father as a patient had no agency in these walls. Gary had been relegated to a pre-defined and immutable protocol and felt very much like he was on a conveyor belt that, in the end, he was actually strapped to with physical restraints,” said the son. “I pray that my father won’t die in vain: that we will give patients and hospitals freedom of treatment and the ability to be with family and to die with dignity.”
One woman described how she and her husband promised each other to not take themselves or their children to the hospital because of what they’d heard — that people weren’t getting proper treatment and weren’t allowed visitors, even if they were dying. Their fears came true when her husband suffered severe pains that required an emergency room visit several weeks after having COVID-19. Nurses ignored the woman’s pleas to help her husband during his stay at the hospital, dismissing his complaints of pain — staff later determined after attempting a heart surgery that he suffered a heart attack three days earlier under their care. No staff noticed because nobody bothered to check his file. Yet, the woman recalled how staff jumped at the chance to ensure hospital policy was followed when it came to how many of their family could visit her husband shortly after his death.
“My husband was dead, my girls’ father just died, and I’m negotiating with these nurses over policies even they could not make sense of,” said the woman. “Who is being protected by these policies, by these protocols? Not my husband, not me. […] The doctors and nurses knew the medicine, but I knew the patient — better than they would. I knew his pain tolerance. I could’ve helped them. I could’ve alleviated some of their load while advocating for my husband, and he could still be here today.”
The woman’s daughter also testified. She explained that the denial of visitation wasn’t just inhumane — it was contrary to the known medical impact of human touch, which can induce recovery and instill a will to live.
“Why now are we taking away these important factors when people’s lives are on the line? When they, too, need an advocate and need loving touch and human connection to send messages to their brain that they’re safe, loved, and strong?” asked the daughter.
Another woman described how her husband of 39 years was admitted last month for COVID-19. Within weeks, her husband’s condition declined rapidly and she was denied visitation. At one point, she explained that her husband recovered — however, within a few days, something went awry with her husband’s treatment and he declined again. She wasn’t able to intervene with what went awry because visitation policy kept her away. The doctors finally allowed the woman and her family to come say goodbye during her husband’s final moments, but would only admit two of their group to go into her husband’s room.
“If we could have only seen him, would he still be here with us today?” asked the woman. “This is heartbreaking and it’s got to stop after two years of this. Please. Please pass this.”
Another woman described how her husband has been hospitalized since mid-October, but hospitals won’t allow her children to see him. She lamented that another of her family hospitalized for COVID-19, her mother, likely would’ve survived her hospital stay had the health care administrators allowed them to choose their own treatments.
State Senator Kelly Townsend lamented what society sacrificed to feel “safe” from COVID-19. Townsend expressed hope that God would have mercy on the many who were merciless.
“I have a hard time understanding the attitude of the hospitals who have seemingly abandoned all sense of ‘humankindness’ in the wake of COVID fear,” said Townsend. “They have violated ARS 36-1301 that says a person has a legal right to refuse service or choose the mode of health care by denying families and the patient any say in the management of care while in the hospital and at the end of life. Many are questioning the type of treatment received in the hospital, and have expressed fear to ever go back and trust their medical care to these hospitals. I must say, I do not blame them. We need a reassessment of who we are as Arizonans, as human beings. God forgive us.”
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.