Family calls for stricter patient discharge laws at hospitals

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — A Colorado family is calling for stricter patient discharge regulations at hospitals after the death of their loved one.

Patricia D’Amico said her son had a history of mental illness, but signed himself out of the hospital and was wandering the streets when a car hit and killed him in Lakewood.

D’Amico said her son, Kevin, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness. She was his full-time caregiver.

On Saturday, Kevin had a seizure and was admitted to St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood.

But the next day, he signed himself out and left. A few hours later, Kevin was walking near Wadsworth Boulevard and West Florida Avenue when police said he was hit by multiple cars and died at the scene.

His family believed he should not have been allowed to leave the hospital without their knowledge.

One way this tragedy could have been avoided is through a power of attorney letter.

Kim Gorgens, who teaches clinical psychology at the University of Denver, said it’s always a good idea if you have a loved one suffering from mental illness.

“So if someone knows who they are, what day it is, where they are, what they’re doing, and they can understand and appreciate the risk … then they have the capacity to make the decision,” Gorgens said.

Gorgens said in the case of Kevin D’Amico, there wasn’t much the family could do if St. Anthony found him to be capable of making a decision to leave the hospital.

“At St. Anthony, they had to determine he was capable of making a decision to leave the hospital,” Gorgens said. “So he had to be lucid, cognitively lucid.

“If he were for example psychotic, or delirious, obviously demented, he would never have been determined to be capable of having the capacity of leaving the hospital.”

One way to protect loved ones is to sit down with family and file a power of attorney so they’re informed first, Gorgens said.

“That conversation can establish you as a medical power of attorney,” she said. “That means the hospital would contact you if they make contact with this particular patient.

“Otherwise the hospital is not allowed to disclose the details of someone’s care to you if you`re an established family member and you`re not recognized as part of their decision making team on that legal paperwork.”

Gorgens said it’s really about peace of mind.

“The medical power of attorney is protection for the patient, for the family and more than anything, it`s peace of mind for both of those parties.”