Legal Corner: When Loved Ones Are Ill


I am a medical malpractice attorney (among other areas of the law) and so I thought for our first column on legal issues, it was most appropriate to bring to light a personal issue as an indication that despite my “legal knowledge”, when the tables are turned and we are dealing with the health and well-being of our own loved ones, our judgment can become quite clouded.


My mother passed away two months ago in February, and while there are several reasons why my mother’s health rapidly declined during the last few months of her life, there is one dominating explanation for the reason her health so severely declined, that is, her stay in an terrible nursing and rehabilitation center, in Monsey, New York. While one would think that you go to a rehabilitation facility for the purpose of getting better, that was unfortunately not the case with respect to my mother’s treatment.


My mother was treated at a hospital several times during the last few years of her life after falls–-often dealing with her failure to take certain medications, and generally, dehydration. She was sometimes forgetful and confused, and we were informed by the medical staff that she was experiencing a degree of dementia. After one of her most recent hospital visits, she was transferred to the rehabilitation center in early December. Although she was completely able to walk, talk and carry on a conversation when she was transferred, she began going downhill very rapidly.


During our numerous visits, my mother was becoming increasingly unresponsive – both in conversation, therapy, and other areas. We repeatedly asked whether we could do things to help her move forward in therapy. I went to a few of her therapy sessions, and tried to get her to walk through the hallways (successfully, from time to time). However, her condition kept declining, and during my last visit to her in the rehabilitation center, she was completely in an terrible nursing and rehabilitation center, in Monsey, New York.unable to carry on any conversation whatsoever. In the meantime, we repeatedly asked for all of the following conditions to be met: (1) that her medications be monitored; (2) that the facility try to find some explanation for why she had deteriorated so quickly; and (3) that she receive a neurological and psychological evaluation.


Two social workers, a therapist and a doctor’s assistant, all informed us that neurological and psychological evaluations would be performed, and that our concerns would be addressed. They repeated and forcefully implied that my mother’s condition was getting worse simply because her dementia had become severe. We kept on questioning whether this normally occurs so rapidly, and were told that it does not; that the doctor on call would consider these concerns and call us; and that the other issues would be addressed as well. The doctor never called us and never met us – again, despite her assistant’s claims that she would call. We were repeatedly told that our mother needed to be sent outside of the facility for the neurological evaluation, but it was never scheduled.


In the meantime, we kept on being told that my mother would have to be transferred from the facility because Medicare would not continue to pay for her therapy if she was non-compliant. In other words, it was all about the money.


On the last day that I went to see her at the facility – on the very day that she was completely unresponsive – my niece, a nurse, visited her and conducted her own neurological evaluation and found mother to be medically unresponsive (but specifically based on a neurological examination). My niece insisted that she be taken to the hospital immediately. In other words, she saved her life that day.


I am an attorney, and I know how to conduct a neurological examination – because I have cross-examined doctors on how it is done. It never even occurred to me that it wasn’t being done. My sister, a nurse, could have easily conducted one as well. We trusted other “medical professionals” because of their representations to us, and our instincts worked against us.  All that the doctor, or anyone else at the facility needed to do was to conduct one examination – or otherwise refer my mother for one – to know what my niece learned in the course of minutes.


When my mother was transferred back to the hospital, it turned out she had a urinary tract infection (UTI). As many know, a UTI can make you unresponsive, and creates an infection in your system. It can cause confusion, and the confusion will remain for some time. My mother did get slightly better for a while, was transferred to another rehabilitation center, and had to be transferred back to the hospital later. Her confusion and lack of responsiveness continued to the end of her life, until she became completely unresponsive again and other infections set in.  I consider her rapid downhill decline to be in large part due to the poor treatment she received at the rehabilitation center and the doctor on call.


It is very ironic: my mother survived two concentration camps, the Lodz ghetto, and numerous ailments over the course of her life.  She could not survive the very poor care she received at the end of her life.


So, the questions that remain – to learn something from my family’s ordeal – centers on how to remain vigilant on medical issues involving family members even where the issues are so extraordinarily personal.

First, consider that there is a bottom line for the facility – often involving how they are being paid – that unfortunately takes becomes a priority over the care for patients.  Second, do not lose your common sense.- If your loved one’s physical response instinctively does not match up to the advice you are given and treatment the patient is getting, there is a problem often another explanation.  Third, stand your ground, and Do not allow a medical professional to dissuade you — especially when they are not performing to your expectations.

Ezra Glaser, Esq., is a Bronx resident and trial lawyer specializing in medical malpractice

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