Archive for Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Bill clears up questions over power of attorney

Impetus for action stems from Leavenworth County Emergency Medical Service case

February 9, 2005

A proposed bill, based on a medical case arising in Basehor last year, soon could be passed into law by the Kansas Legislature and would require emergency medical attendants to honor durable power of attorney documents.

State Rep. Jim Morrison, R-Colby, chairman of the committee on health and human services, said House Bill 2211 soon would be scheduled for a hearing and possible House vote.

"I'll be surprised if this doesn't pass easily," the chairman said. "Why would anybody be opposed to making ambulance drivers look at a legal document? What's so tough about that? In looking at this, I can't see why it wouldn't pass.

"I've been looking at bills for 13 years and this looks like consent calendar, which means this is not controversial at all."

State Rep. Ray Cox, R-Bonner Springs, worked with Tammy Potts of Basehor in seeing the bill pushed forward for consideration by the Legislature. In 2004, Potts filed three complaints against Leavenworth County's Emergency Medical Service with an investigations committee of the Kansas State Board of EMS. The complaints, which are still pending, stem from a decision by paramedics in November 2003 not to transport her mother, Alene Wilson of Basehor, to the hospital.

Wilson, who doctors had diagnosed as suffering from hallucinations and dementia, had fallen and broken her hip. Potts, who possessed durable power of attorney documents granting her rights to make financial and medical decisions for her mother, has said she showed the documents to EMS attendants at the scene.

Wilson, who Potts claims was not in control of her mental faculties, refused transport to the hospital. Potts told EMS to take her mother anyway, but was refused by EMS workers, who said they were abiding her mother's wishes.

Wilson arrived at the hospital via her daughter's mini-van 17 hours after her fall. She died from pneumonia 14 days later.

Potts' complaints still are listed as an open case with the state's EMS board, which currently is developing a program that would educate EMS attendants on documents such as durable power of attorney agreements.

While pleased with the majority of the proposed bill, Potts said she'd like to see some minor adjustments made to it. One of those adjustments centers on clearly defining that EMS attendants would not be liable for transporting patients against their wishes. If a patient is not legally competent, a legal guardian should have the right to request hospital treatment, and attendants should be allowed to do so without the threat of legal ramifications, Potts said.

During a previous hearing, an attorney for the investigations committee addressed the myth that a paramedic could be charged with kidnapping or assault for taking an injured person refusing treatment to the hospital. The attorney said no such case histories could be found in the United States.

A provision making EMS attendants in that situation immune from legal liability is contained in the current draft of the bill, but Potts said she'd like there to be no doubt as to its meaning. That's the only clear way to debunk the notion, she said.

"It should make clear that EMS will not be held liable," Potts said. "I want every EMT in Kansas to know that they can take you to the doctor and not worry about being sued. That kind of thing shouldn't be held over their heads."

Potts, who's retained an attorney and is considering filing a civil lawsuit against Leavenworth County, said she and her attorney are in discussions with the county's attorneys. There has not yet been a settlement to the case, she said.

"We are in contact with their attorneys and we are waiting for a response to a couple of suggestions we've made," she said.

Potts said she's optimistic the Legislature will pass H.B. 2211, or as she likes to call it, "Alene's Law." She said changing EMS procedures and ensuring the pitfalls that befell her mother could be avoided in the future always were the primary goals of bringing her mother's case before the public.

"This is something that's going to protect people so that hopefully what happened to Mom will never happen again," Potts said.

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