Archive for August, 2012

HEALTH CARE AGENTS, NOT AMBULANCE DRIVERS, SHOULD DECIDE PATIENTS’ HOSPITAL CHOICE

Many New Yorkers have signed health care proxy statements that designate a relative or friend as an agent to make medical decisions for them if they are unable to communicate. Surprisingly, due to a recent court ruling, their agent may be prohibited from directing an ambulance driver to their preferred hospital.
A federal court decision (Stein v. County of Nassau, et al.) concerning an incident that occurred on Long Island held that – when outside of a hospital or other medical institution- a health care agent does not have the authority to direct where a patient is transported. In fact, the court said that state law requires that the agent must first consult a medical professional to confirm that the patient lacks capacity.
Shortly following the filing of the lawsuit, the plaintiff contacted Ellen Makofsky, who has authored numerous articles about health care proxies. Ellen was very sympathetic to plaintiff Stein who was denied the right to direct her husband’s ambulance driver to the hospital where her husband was previously treated and where the doctors were familiar with his medical history, because no doctor had opined that her unconscious husband patient lacked capacity. It was an outrageous situation.
Ellen Makofsky urged the Elder Law Section of the New York Bar Association to take action so that the wishes of an unconscious patient could be respected. With the help of others, Ellen drafted a proposed amendment to the health care proxy law. The proposed amendment permits an individual designated as a health care agent to make decisions about transporting a patient to a particular hospital, mental hygiene facility or residential health care facility when the patient is unconscious or unresponsive without a certification of incapacity. The proposed amendment does not apply in cases involving major medical trauma when a patient requires immediate medical treatment.
The New York State Bar and other legal groups urged passage of the proposed amendment and in June 2012 the bill passed in both the New York State Assembly and Senate (A-8389 and S-5014-A). The bill currently awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature and then officially becomes the new law. It is a wonderful outcome derived from a difficult situation.