The following is a letter that I wrote and sent on behalf of our family to Harbor UCLA Hospital, where my father spent the final hours of his life. It’s hard to believe in this day and age that someone could be so insensitive and it’s a shame that one person can taint the otherwise mostly positive experience.
I heard from the hospital administration yesterday. They are sending a letter explaining their steps and reactions to my mother and have called to apologize to her. It still doesn’t un-do the emotional abuse we endured that day, but we’re hoping that calling them out prevents any other family from going through this on a day they lose a loved one.
The lesson–stand your grand and don’t put up with power-tripping, insensitive people. There are actually very few of them and many more of us.
To the Directors of Harbor UCLA Hospital
The John Hunter family of Torrance, California, had quite a few experiences with your facility over the past couple of years, but we feel we must share our most recent.
The reason for our visit, our dad, 91-year-old John Hunter, got out of bed Wednesday afternoon after lying down to take a nap, lost his balance and fell backwards, hitting his head on an end table in the bedroom.
The result was an injury that required an ambulance ride to Harbor UCLA. It was there that, after a series of CAT scans, we realized his bleeding wasn’t going to stop, he was too weak for surgery, and this was probably the end of the road.
After the second CAT scan, his speech became garbled and by the third scan, the pooling blood had reduced him to just a breathing body.
My wife and I arrived in town Thursday afternoon and by the time we arrived at the hospital, the situation was obvious. We all believed dad could hear everything said, so we talked with him and included him in the discussions.
It was at this point I knew that I would need to write a glowing letter about some of your caring staff.
First off, my sister Debbie and Mom raved about the incredible treatment when dad first arrived at the Emergency/Trauma center. The staff was phenomenal and Dr. Brando was exceptionally compassionate.
Then, in the 3rd floor ICU, there was Nurse Rodney Hittle. When my wife & I first arrived, dad was in the ICU unit in his non-responsive mode. Rodney came up, introduced himself, explained the situation, asked if we had any questions and made us feel that our dad was in great hands. Even while moving him around as they prepared to relocate him to a private room on the 6th floor for Comfort Care, Rodney would talk to dad and say, “OK, John, we’re going to….etc” It was heart-warming to see him treat a patient that way. Add to that, Rodney also came up twice to check on us before he headed home.
Since I live in Seattle and realized that we were in the final few days of my father’s life, I volunteered to stay the night with him. This gave me a lot of time to talk with him, relive old stories and say my goodbyes. Concerned he’d try to slip away while I was sleeping there, I set my alarm every hour to check on him. The overnight nurse, Christine, was amazing. She introduced herself. During her multiple stops in the room to check on him, she kept asking how I was doing. It was the kind of caring for your family member that you’d think should be the rule. However, in our experience with other area medical providers, we’ve discovered that it’s the exception.
We also had incredibly positive encounters with a Dr. Sloan and Dr. Nan and on Friday morning, our day shift nurse, Tracy Jones, who you’ll be hearing about later.
We had various discussions about the “What if’s”, wondering if dad would last for days, hours or whatever. He surprised us all and slipped away at 10:41 Friday morning.
The family grieved, prayed and spent time with dad before Tracy informed us they were ready to move the body whenever we were done. The family packed up and left around 1pm, heading home to have lunch and begin our grieving.
And this is when our Harbor UCLA nightmare began.
As we sat down to lunch at our mother’s home around 2pm, my sister Terri’s cell phone rang. She went down the hall to talk and soon returned, signaling me to come join her in the conversation.
It was Green Hills Mortuary, letting us know that there was a paperwork issue preventing them from picking up our father’s body. Terri was given the phone number of someone to contact at Harbor UCLA: her name was Donna.
Terri called asking why our father’s body wasn’t being released. She was told that was true and that it probably wasn’t going to happen today. Then she informed my sister that pickups didn’t occur after 4pm Fridays or on the weekends so my dad would probably remain in their morgue until Monday.
Without hesitation, Terri conveyed the family response. That was completely unacceptable. That’s when Donna dug in and informed her that having dad’s body picked up “wasn’t going to happen.”
With her lack of co-operation, we decided to go around her. We asked for her supervisor and we were informed that she was on vacation, but here’s her cell phone number. “Don’t leave a message, just keep calling.”
We called the phone number over and over without a response. Now, we’re fighting mad.
So, I called Rodney. He told us our best bet would be to check with our floor nurse. I called up the 6th floor to reach Tracy Jones and was put on hold for 10 minutes. I decided to hang up, redialed and this time, I reached Tracy. She was surprised and told us that all the paperwork had been turned in. The doctor had signed off, there was no reason why it shouldn’t be released. At 11:45am.
We called Donna back and explained what Tracy said and Donna informed us that there were complications, the coroner’s office had to be involved, and again, it was unlikely it was going to happen today. Plus, there was something my mom needed to sign that she hadn’t signed. (which turned out later to not be true)
OK, it was obvious by now that this was not going to be resolved over the phone, so my sister Terri, my mother and I headed back to the hospital. A place we thought we had left for the last time.
As we approached the hospital, my cell phone rang. It was Tracy the nurse, who had given me her personal cell phone in case this wasn’t resolved. Tracy told us it had all been handled, she had personally gone down to Donna’s office and talked with her and that Green Hills was 15 minutes away from the hospital.
We called my sister Debbie with the good news. She suggested that since we were almost at the hospital that we stop by and verify the transfer, just in case.
Thankfully we did, because it was NOT resolved. We went to Donna’s office (Decendent Affairs), knocked on the door and were greeted by a friendly employee. We explained why we were there and that’s when she turned and spoke to the other employee in the room and said, “Donna?”
Donna then abruptly told us she was working on the forms, that there was a lot to it, that bit about involving the coroner’s office again and said she was doing the best she could. We said that Tracy told us it was all handled. Donna used her hands to create an imaginary box and said, “Yes, but she does not work here in this office.” At one point of our discussion, your employee even mention that some bodies stay in their morgue for a month or more.
My first reaction was to go outside so I could have cell phone service and call Tracy back. When I reached her, Tracy said she had hand-delivered the paperwork to Donna, the doctor had signed off and that Donna had everything she needed.
At this point, it became apparent we needed to locate someone at the hospital who could show a little more compassion for a family that had just lost one of its members. I found out the location of patient services on the 8th floor and went there to explain our situation. After going through a detailed description, the two friendly employees told me they were aware of what was going on and led me down to Donna’s office. My mom and sister Terri joined us along the way and waiting in front of the office were Nurse Tracy and Dr. Nam. Both apologized and said they had no idea what the hang up was. It was now 4pm. Tracy had gotten off-shift at 3pm, but stayed late to make sure this was fixed. She had done everything she could possibly do to help.
Tracy left and the rest of the hospital staff gathered behind the frosted windows of Donna’s office as my mom, sister and I stood outside. 45 minutes later, they emerged with Dr. Nam letting us know that dad’s body had been picked up and taken to Green Hills.
We were also informed later that, yes, there was something the coroner’s office needed to do, but they were able to perform that at Green Hills.
We never saw Donna, which was probably for the better. Her lack of compassion, her condescending attitude, was monumental. We wondered how many other families have experienced this heartless treatment by a Harbor UCLA staff member. It was not our intention to interfere with her on-time Friday afternoon departure.
It’s a shame for all of the positive attributes of Harbor UCLA during such a traumatic life experience that we had to spend a day of mourning for my father fighting for his dignity.
The Hunter Family
So you know the complete story, on Sunday we were informed by the funeral home that dad’s body would have to be taken to downtown LA and signed off by the coroner before we could bury him. We didn’t know until Monday afternoon that the Wednesday funeral plans would actually happen. How to make a difficult time even more difficult. I understand the intent, but every now and then, a little common sense needs to break out.
Again, stand your ground. Fight for what you know is right and maybe you’ll help another family avoid such treatment.