Hargett v. Vitas
January, 2012: Good news. The court denied another in a series of motions by Vitas to dismiss large parts of the complaint. The court did agree to dismiss two parts related to emotional distress, but will accept additional facts to support those claims. This shows we have a strong case, that may be even stronger if the court accepts our amended complaint.
In September 2009, Michelle Hargett Beebee, a 43-year-old mother of three young children, was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. Her pain and symptoms escalated quickly and soon after Michelle was referred to hospice care at Vitas, the nation’s largest for-profit hospice chain. Michelle entered Vitas hospice in November 2009 with the goal of bringing her pain and symptoms under control and to have a peaceful death. Instead, Michelle died in misery.
Her final weeks were underscored by terrible and almost continuous pain. Michelle was never told about her pain-management options, despite receiving care in California, where the California Right to Know End-of-Life Options Act requires health care providers to inform terminal patients, upon request, of all their end-of-life options.
Michelle’s parents were at her side advocating strongly for optimal care and pain management. Despite their advocacy and a state law designed to help patients make informed choices, she was never told that medications were available to her that would have eased her acute pain.
This terrible story should never be repeated. That’s why Compassion & Choices has filed a groundbreaking lawsuit in Alameda Superior Court under the California Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Act. The lawsuit seeks accountability from the Hospice for its reckless failure to treat Michelle’s unrelieved agony as she approached death and for its failure to inform Michelle of her option to choose palliative sedation.
Michelle and her survivors are represented by attorneys James Geagan of Sonoma and Kathryn Tucker, Director of Legal Affairs for Compassion & Choices. Tucker said, “Either Michelle was not given adequate pain medication, or her pain wasn’t going to be adequately relieved, and she should have been offered ‘palliative sedation.’ In either case, she was left uninformed, in violation of the Right to Know Act, and she suffered terribly in her final days.”