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DC hospital rushing end-of-life process on dying father to free up ventilator

In just one week, a D.C. woman has gone from having regular conversations and joking with her father to preparing his funeral.

Malene Lawrence says her 89-year-old father, George Hawkins, had tested positive for COVID-19. Doctors informed her that his breathing had declined significantly since being admitted last week.

Hawkins is currently at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Northwest Washington.

“Basically, now I’m left just to make plans,” Lawrence said.

On Tuesday, Lawrence spent the day notifying family and planned to visit the hospital Thursday to say their last goodbyes. She’ll have to do this without entering her father’s room. Lawrence stated that close relatives would have to see Hawkins by video chat since they are currently in quarantine in New York.

 

 

Wednesday morning, Lawrence claimed doctors called her repeatedly, insisting the family start the end-of-life procedures on Wednesday, instead of Thursday because the ICU remain filled and ventilators were needed.

Lawrence says she is furious.

 

A spokesperson for Medstar said the hospital wasn’t able to comment on Hawkins’ specific case, but did release a statement to WUSA9:

“Due to federal privacy laws, we are unable to discuss specific patient issues. In general, however, we have protocols in place to ensure comfort of patients in their last days and hours. During this time, the patient and family members are brought together to discuss the changing goals of care, which can then shift toward maintaining physical comfort, and addressing emotional, spiritual, and social needs. These procedures are all in place to ensure patient comfort and dignity. At the same time, our caregivers involve family members in every step of this process.” 

 

During a coronavirus briefing Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser describes the current demand on D.C. hospitals.

Muriel Bowser said that there were 422 ventilators available in the city as of Wednesday night. Nearly half of them, 185, is already being used.

Due to an increasing number of coronavirus cases, the Mayor and city health officials have said hospitals are now preparing for a surge.

 

“In the coming weeks, we need to work together to flatten the curve,” Bowser said. “If you’re not well, if you have symptoms of COVID-19 – fever, cough or shortness of breath – we need you to call a doctor, or health care provider, and we need you to stay home.”

 

Lawrence said she understands the need to free up rooms and equipment to save other lives, but does not want to rush this critical moment. She said she is saying goodbye on Thursday.

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