Legal Background

After a 5-day trial during which Mr N, the neuropsychologist, and the physicians involved in Mr P’s care all testified, the court ultimately found in favor of the hospital. The court found that based on the neuropsychologist’s second examination, and the fact that he had a first exam to compare it to, the patient had regained capacity prior to his discharge from the hospital. The court held that the guardianship order of the daughter and ex-wife was very limited in scope and that they were authorized to make healthcare decisions for him “ONLY to the extent necessitated by Mr P’s actual and adaptive limitations.” Because he was not found to be limited in mental capacity at the time of his discharge, the guardians had no authority to make decisions for him.

Finally, the court looked at Mr P’s discharge to determine whether Mr P was provided with a safe and reasonable discharge plan. The court listened carefully to Mr N’s testimony about the appointments he made for follow-up treatment for the patient, as well as his strong recommendation that the patient stop drinking and attend group meetings. He testified that at the time of his discharge, Mr P admitted that he was an alcoholic and that he was going to try to stop drinking. The court found this acknowledgment showed insight and significant progress, and because Mr P was medically stable and had capacity and an appropriate discharge plan, he was entitled to make the decision to leave.

Protecting Yourself

The court noted that before the patient was discharged, Mr N reviewed the entire discharge plan with him and made sure he understood. This encounter was noted in the patient’s file. Mr N also conferred with the other treating clinicians, reviewed the medical record, and created an appropriate discharge plan, which included making follow-up appointments. As with most cases, good record keeping, noting changes in mental status of a patient, and making decisions in consultation with the patient’s other clinicians will always stand you in good stead in the event of a lawsuit.  

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Ms Latner, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, NY.