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Ann Hathaway: Patients need advocates by side

Ann Hathaway
Special to Gannett Kansas
Ann Hathaway

My dad, a 97-year-old machine gunner in WWII, recently had a medical emergency that required a trip to the hospital via EMS. He wears two hearing aids, relies heavily on me to communicate with medical personnel on his behalf, and I have durable power of attorney.

Thousands of you have been through my nightmare that is now the current COVID-19 hospitalization protocol I’m going to describe.

At the ER, I was told flatly, coldly that I could not see my dad, nor could I wait in the waiting room. If I wished to stay, I must wait in my car. My pleas to help my dad communicate his symptoms and pertinent medical history fell on deaf ears. There was an armed security guard standing by to escort me to my car should I refuse to leave.

I waited in my car with no word for hours. I called four times asking for information, and was told I was tying up their line.

During his 48-hour stay, I was allowed to be with him for three hours. My mom, who suffers from dementia, was frantic, confused and alone at their assisted living facility.

These same harmful policies are in place at my parents’ assisted living facility, where they have been in lockdown since March 4. They cannot come out, and no one can come in. They have been isolated from their family members, their pastor and friends, even their fellow residents. Not a single hug or kiss or touch of a hand, for over five months.

This begs the question that medical, health and geriatric professionals must ask, “Is it better to die from COVID-19, or from loneliness, despair, and depression?”

We, the family members and advocates for our hospitalized and confinees of nursing homes/assisted living residences say enough. The documented reality of husbands missing the births of their children, mothers giving birth alone and tens of thousands of grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives dying or suffering alone as their family members grieve and agonize, isolated from them, is unconscionable and malevolent.

Hospital patients and elders have rights and individual liberties that are being egregiously violated and callously ignored by health professionals. Additionally, without family members present, monitoring conditions in nursing homes and hospitals, the most valuable source of accountability is removed.

If these oppressive and injurious policies, which are wholly arbitrary and enacted by unelected health officials, can only be changed by laws or “mandates,” then we call upon city council members, county council members and state legislators to act.

We want these rights restored and respected. If masks work, put them to use for family members of hospital patients and nursing home residents. Mask up, gown up, glove up and let us in.

Anything less is simply inhumane.

Ann Hathaway is a lifelong Wichitan, an art instructor and docent at the Wichita Art Museum.