May is National Elder Law month. In my practice, I routinely counsel families through major life transitions, including death, disability and illness. I have been empathetic toward the adult children who often shoulder the burden of overseeing the care of their aging parents. But, after my own personal challenge, I have a renewed and profound understanding for the plight of the caregiver. I have never appreciated the importance of a family advocate more than I do now.
Here is my personal anecdote about hospital advocacy:
My father’s coronary bypass surgery was scheduled as routinely as an oil change. We marked the calendar and Dad submitted his leave request at work. The surgery went off without a hitch and I expected that, because he is only 58 years old, we’d be heading home in just a few days. However, the days following his surgery are what almost killed him. He was overdosed on pain medication twice in 4 days. He was teetering on the edge of respiratory failure.
My family committed never to leave him without an advocate by his side until he left that hospital. After the second overdose on day 4, we took control of his care. We demanded answers and information from every medical provider who walked into his hospital room. What meds did they give him? What dosage? What is the purpose? What are his vitals? When is physical therapy coming back? What are his goals for discharge? Why haven’t his bed sheets been changed in two days? Is someone coming in to help him bathe?
The sad thing is that there were other patients on that floor who were calling out to us for help because they did not have family members standing vigil at their bedside. If we hadn’t been there for my dad, I am certain he would not have left that hospital alive.
I can also attest to the power of an Advance Directive. Upon admission, he provided the hospital with a copy of his Advance Directive, which I had insisted he update the day before his surgery.
I was able to speak to doctors by phone and I was able to give instructions regarding my dad’s care.
Be vigilant. Be persistent. Ask questions and demand answers. It is not enough to rely on the hospital staff. They, too, are overworked and overburdened. You are their lifeline.
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Shannon L. Hammond is a founding member of Hammond Law, LLC. She is a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law and is admitted to practice law in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and before the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. She is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the Coalition of Geriatric Services (COGS), and the Elder Law and Estates and Trusts Sections of the Maryland State Bar Association. She was named a Rising Star in the 2013 Maryland Super Lawyers list, published by Baltimore Magazine.
Shannon is a frequent lecturer on legal issues involving Medicaid, estate planning, and probate. She has taught “Strategic Planning for Aging and Asset Protection,” at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland Renaissance Institute and “Legal Issues and the Elderly,” at the Johns Hopkins University Odyssey Program. Shannon was also recently appointed to the Board of Directors for the Maryland non-profit organization “By Their Side“, which advocates for developmentally disabled Marylanders and their families.
Shannon has dedicated her career exclusively to the practice of Medicaid and estate planning. Shannon is deeply committed to assisting clients in great need and zealously advocates for those with diminished capacity.
Planning Solutions Group, LLC is not affiliated with Hammond Law, LLC and does not offer legal services.