The following letter was send to Dr. Robert Levine, CEO of the Peninsula Hospital Center.
I am writing on behalf of my mother and grandfather with regards to a disturbing incident that occurred July 3, 2001. The patient in question is my grandfather, Michael Flanagan. Mr. Flanagan is an 88-year-old man with congestive heart failure. He was brought to Peninsula by EMS, and attended to there by his physician, Dr. David Lichtenstein. He has been a patient in your hospital before – he was in the Granirer Wing for about 2 months over the winter, and spent a few days in the cardiac unit in March. On both those occasions he received excellent treatment from your staff and our family had no complaints whatsoever about the facilities. That is why we were so stunned by the treatment my grandfather received during his latest stay.
On July 4, my mother and I went to visit my grandfather in his room (417A). We were dismayed to find him sitting in a chair, where he had been placed hours before, unshaven and dirty. There was a blanket thrown over him and he was upset and disoriented. A plastic container filled with cold water and an unused razor sat on the floor where it had been the previous afternoon when we visited. The nurse on duty at that time, Bob LoFries (who had been out the previous day) told us that my grandfather had had quite a night. Apparently, on the 3:00pm shift of Tuesday, July 3, my grandfather was taken from his bed and loaded into a hospital van – despite his repeated pleas to the driver and attendants not to move him and to please call his daughter (my mother). After being driven from pick-up location to pick-up location, where other passengers were boarded, he was finally brought to Ocean Promenade Nursing Home. Naturally, since there was no order releasing him and no one at Ocean Promenade had any idea who he was; he was then trundled back to the hospital. This took a total of four hours. Four hours of so-called professionals ignoring the discomfort and terror of a frail old man who knew better than they did. He was terribly afraid that his room would be gone when he got back and he would be subject to the chaos of the emergency room yet again. Mercifully, he was able to return to 417A, but could not sleep the rest of that night for fear of being wrongfully rousted from his bed again.
After Mr. LoFries informed us of this incident (and incidentally, Mr. LoFries is a wonderful nurse and one of the only people on that floor who seems to genuinely care for the patients at all), my mother went down to speak to someone at the nurses’ station who might be able to tell us what happened. We had more than one issue to take up with the staff. Aside from the fact that your staff carted a man of almost 90 years from hospital to hospital, against his wishes and without a release order, he had also been requesting for days to have his room changed. His first "roommate" was a mental patient from a local shelter. He babbled constantly and his "girlfriend" was apparently ejected by security twice. My grandfather was unable to sleep for the entire time he was in the room. No sooner had the one roommate been released than another man was placed in the room. This unfortunate gentleman had some sort of a machine hooked into his lungs. The machine made an incessant sucking noise and also kept my grandfather up for days. We had pleaded with the nurses to have his room changed for days, to no avail. For this and all our other issues, no one had any kind of an answer and one nurse (who’s name I did not get, I believe she is a Jamaican woman) was abusive. She literally screamed at my mother that she had washed my grandfather (not true – he absolutely reeked – please remember that his illness renders him incontinent) and that the only reason we were accusing her of neglecting my grandfather is because she didn’t shave him (for days, I might add). She got louder and more bellicose with every sentence (there were two social workers – Roseanne and Jane – who witnessed this incident). Finally we walked away, as no one was going to give us an honest answer or treat us with anything approaching civility. Mr. LoFries then offered to bathe and shave my grandfather, which we gratefully accepted. I might also add that when Mr. LoFries was not on duty my grandfather would often sit on a chair for hours waiting for someone to come and make up his bed. My mother and I had to seek out the nursing staff three times one afternoon just to get his sheets put on the bed. This was not done with gracious good humor, either, I might add.
Upon returning home, my mother phoned the Director of Nurses, Joan Gomez, and related the incident to her. Ms. Gomez at first acted as though she did not believe my mother and her attitude was decidedly casual (almost "so what?"). Apparently, Ms. Gomez must have spoken to the staff at the nurses’ station and learned that the incident my mother described did indeed occur. She phoned my mother back and her attitude was decidedly different. Unfortunately, it was too little too late and I advised my mother to seek legal counsel. I would hate to see this happen to another poor elderly person – some people have no family and no one to check up on them. I shudder to think of what the Fourth Floor nursing staff does to unfortunate people like that. I truly believe an extremely elderly person in frail health could die during an episode like that.
My grandfather is now in Ocean Promenade, where he is treated decently and gently. He has lived almost an entire century, was a dignified and hard working man, and deserves better treatment than what he got at your facility. I know that your administration has worked very hard to improve the conditions and the reputation of Peninsula Hospital Center. I know that in some instances the improvements have been enormously successful. What a shame that all your hard work and public relations are being damaged by a small portion of your staff. I for one have been warning everyone with a doctor affiliated with your hospital not to let him or her place their elderly parents on the 4th floor. Perhaps you don’t realize that you are earning your money from human beings. My grandfather is a human being and he was treated like cattle. My mother and I are relatives trying to preserve the dignity of a failing loved one and we treated like a nuisance. I would not have been half as upset over the forced move incident if our (natural) questions and concerns had been met with anything vaguely resembling compassion and regret. Instead we feel abused and disdained.
I hope you will investigate these charges and that you or someone from your staff will reply to this letter. I would especially like it if someone would have the courtesy to speak with my mother. I would like to think that the patients at Peninsula mean more than just dollars and cents, but after this last experience I sincerely doubt it.
Special Projects Coordinator
New York University