Hospital Closes and a Woman's Life Hinges on Court Battle

“A tube down my throat,” is what Teresa Gonzalez manages to say about her current medical condition. She is speaking while breathing with the aid of a respirator.

A real life drama is now playing out over Gonzalez. While she’s in her bed in Little Havana, a legal battle is underway as her future hangs in the balance.

The owners of a former Miami hospital say they’ve done nothing wrong, but the woman's family says they put her in a potentially fatal situation by making her dependent on a respirator and then announcing all her care would terminate this month.

Metropolitan Hospital was located not far from Miami International Airport. It’s been sold and is being renovated but it’s what a woman and her lawyer say happened there last year that now has her, they say, in an impossible situation.

Gonzalez is now 54. She told us that she’s confined to her bed—hooked up to a breathing tube and respirator inside her one bedroom apartment in a building located just off the Miami River. When asked if she ever imagined being in this situation? She shakes her head no and says, “never.”

The situation so precarious her family Thursday rushed to court. “ It looked to me like an emergency,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko said from the bench. “Their concern is they don’t want to have Ms. Gonzalez pass away and then be dealing with an irreparable situation,” she stated.

The woman's family says it asked for the emergency hearing because Gonzalez can't survive without the respirator and the hospital’s owner told them in August everything would be taken away on September 11th. “ Without the assistance of a respirator, the equipment that has been furnished to her as well as the attendant care has 24 hours a day she will unquestionably succumb,” Gonzalez’s attorney Jorge Silva stated.

But the hospital’s attorney said at this moment, there is no emergency. “ The plaintiff’s counsel has known since August 12th when he received an email from Mr. Segal that care would terminate as of Sept. 11. Today is Sept 4th. Obviously it is not an emergency,’ Amy Donner stated.

Also the hospital in its filing to the court, said any contention that the "cessation of care on September 11, 2014 may result in (Gonzalez’s) death are flatly contradicted."

How did Gonzalez end up at odds with the hospital? Pictures captured Teresa before July of 2013 when she told us overall she was healthy but was experiencing some trouble ---felt short of breath ---and decided to go to Metropolitan. Gonzalez’s lawyers say when she came here doctors inexplicably placed a tube down her throat and it remained there for an inordinate about of time. Then they performed a tracheotomy and Gonzalez had a tube in her throat and was hooked up at a respirator here for the next 9 months.

Silva says, “They made her ventilator dependent and there were no efforts to wean her off the respirator.” Silva claims the hospital’s doctors committed malpractice then its owners broke Florida patient dumping laws by placing Gonzalez in her home this spring when the hospital closed. The family initiated the first step required to sue.

“They simply went and opened up an unlicensed facility in her home. In this little one bedroom facility they decided to run a hospital out of it. Not a single physician has ever visited her at her home. Not a single registered nurse. Not a single physical therapist.” Silva said.

Metropolitan’s lawyers declined to be interviewed but in the letter announcing the medical services would be terminated wish her well--indicate she requested she be moved to a residential location--then said:“...MHM agreed to pay, and has paid, temporarily for the provision of care.... since she left...MHM is no longer able to continue to provide for Ms. Gonzalez's care. ......on September 11, 2014 MHM will no longer pay for any costs, medical or otherwise...” In court they said it appeared since leaving Metropolitan she was doing better.

“She went to Mercy Hospital and she went to Larkin Hospital for between four to five days and you know those hospitals discharged her,” Donner told the judge.

Also, in writing they provided the court additional details saying: "At Larkin Hospital in June 2014, (Gonzalez) was weaned from her ventilator, took steps own her own with minimal assistance....is going to need intensive therapy at home..."

The judge is proceeding with caution. “Here’s the thing. The main issue is that I do not allow any irreparable harm happen to Mrs. Gonzalez. There is an allegation that she cannot live without the respirator,” Judge Butchko told the family and the attorneys.

The hospital ultimately agreed to give more time—one extra week on the deadline and the judge’s order prevents any action before Sept. 18th unless they all come back to court first. Gonzalez’s lawyer says how all this happened in the first place will be addressed when there’s no clock ticking on her.

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