Experience at Local Hospital Leads to Letter to the Editor
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To the Community:
I recently had a very bad experience at the emergency room of the hospital in Willits and would like to warn others of a few things of which to be aware.
When you are admitted to the emergency room you are required to sign a form authorizing medical care and advising you of your rights and of your non-rights. I signed, of course, but did not read anything as I was in distress and was in no shape to drive on to another hospital. I made the mistake of believing I would receive proper care at Frank Howard, Jr. Memorial Hospital — OR, if they felt they could not provide me proper care, they would arrange a transfer to another facility that could provide me with the care I required.
Howard Memorial (also known as Adventist Health Howard Memorial, part of a huge chain now, not just a little country business) informs you in their admissions forms that the doctors and other staff that treat you may not be employees of the hospital. They are independent contractors who are just renting space in the hospital and they (Howard) are not responsible for the quality of care you may receive.
The problem is, who is responsible when something goes wrong, as it did in my case, and what motivation does Howard have to hire good, and dump bad, doctors? On other occasions, I have received very good care at Howard. But on this occasion, I was not so fortunate.
This is not the place to go into details, but the short story is that the physician who treated me in the Howard ER had no idea what to do for my medical circumstances, but proceeded to “treat” me, anyway. She did not stop a procedure when I told her that I was in tremendous pain and that what she was doing was wrong. I have had this procedure before, so I knew what I was talking about. But she would listen and she would not stop and the eventual result, after it was no longer possible for her to deny she had no idea what she was doing, was a $5000 ambulance transfer to another hospital in Santa Rosa which had properly trained staff available to deal with my medical needs. Once there, I required emergency surgery to correct the damage done in the Willits ER and stayed two nights in the hospital until I was strong enough to be discharged. Total billed charges for this “event” are now in the six-figure range, and I continue to have problems and require occasional treatment.
Because of how medical practitioners and providers are protected under California laws, it is very difficult to bring suit unless you are very young and have suffered enormous loss of earning capacity, or are damaged severely enough to have guaranteed major expenses for custodial care and treatment the remainder of your life. It has to be millions of dollars, or no lawyer is going to take the time to represent you. I cannot sue the hospital even though they made the decision to allow the treating “physician” to practice there because of the contracts I signed upon admission to the ER. The “doctor” who treated me is also not a preferred provider for my insurance — although the hospital is. Our insurance paid her anyway, as if she was “preferred,” and the person I spoke to said this is a common problem in rural hospitals and our insurance will pay the treating physician if the facility is a preferred one, “as a courtesy to their subscribers.” They are under no legal obligation to do this. So, maybe your insurance will pay, or maybe they will not, and it is unlikely that you will be able to figure this out when you arrive at the emergency room. But, even if you do know, what are your choices when you need emergency medical care? One should be able to trust that a hospital makes some effort to have qualified physicians available to treat patients when they present for care, or have alternative plans to make certain their medical needs are met.
It is very unfortunate, but my advice to anyone with the ability to do so is to go to another medical facility for emergency care. Until Howard gets procedures in place which require patients to be transferred when on-site staff is not trained to deal with their medical problems, being treated in their ER may well lead to greater medical problems than brought you into the ER in the first place. If you absolutely need to go there, try and have someone else with you who can monitor what is being done and help get you to another facility if it becomes obvious that they are not being responsive to your needs and/or are completely ignoring your rights as a patient. When someone is screaming in pain because a procedure is being done incorrectly, the proper medical response is not just to continue what is being done, but use greater physical force.
If your circumstances do make suing Howard Memorial a possibility because of something that was done by someone other than a non-employee contractor, be advised that it will be almost impossible to find out the name of the Agent for Service of Process. You will not find Adventist Health Howard Memorial or anything like that registered with the Secretary of State. I’m sure they have a very good reason for being listed as Willits Hospital Inc. My only recourse at this point is to sue the treating physician, Michella Sheppherd, in Small Claims Court to try and recover my out-of-pocket costs. We are fortunate that our insurance has covered the vast majority of the expenses at both hospitals and for the ambulance transfer. If we did not have insurance, we would be responsible for the entire amount with virtually no legal recourse. Small Claims actions are limited to $10,000, maximum. Spencer Chase