Accidents happen and there are times when minutes or hours can be critical to a person’s survival or recovery. These can also be times when a family member or spouse is thrust into a decision-making role which they are either physically, psychologically, or emotionally unfit to handle. In such situations, it is not uncommon for the family to call their lawyer or a friend who is a lawyer to help them determine their options.
I was recently confronted with a situation by a colleague of mine: a family was badly injured in an accident with the children and father being unconscious and needing surgery while the mother, though conscious, was not emotionally equipped in her condition to make medical decisions for her husband and children.
My colleague is the friend-who-is-a-lawyer and is doing his best to help the family during their emergency.
The question was what could be done to take that decision-making out of Mom’s hands quickly, voluntarily, but that she could easily reclaim when she had recovered further. Due to being conscious and competent to make decisions, we could not pursue any incapacity claims through the Orphan’s Court and that process would take too much time, anyway, even as an emergency matter.
Our client’s children are being treated in the ICU of their hospital. Having had the experience of being a parent with a child in that unit, I immediately knew the answer to my colleagues question was with one of the hospitals best non-medical resources: their social workers.
Most hospitals, but children’s hospitals in particular, staff their floors with social workers whose job is to help families navigate the variety of services and programs that may be available to them. This can be critical for helping a family enroll a disabled child in Medicaid or finding counseling for grieving parents.
I recommended to my colleague that they contact the ICU floor’s social worker and see what they had available to accomplish this narrow and targeted relinquishment of decision-making authority. The social worker for the hospital knew the answer immediately and provided us with a medical consent authorization form within minutes.
Using this form, we were able to have our client transfer to a family member her power to consent to necessary medical treatment to her children and her husband. She was able to focus on her recovery and not exacerbate her emotional trauma by being forced to make decisions on the treatment of her family.
We now keep this form ready in our litigation and estate planning departments in case of any future emergencies. Knowing there are resources like social workers in hospitals, however, has value unto itself and should be kept in mind as one of the first people to be in contact when trying to manage a medical emergency.
Aaron Weems is an attorney and editor of the Pennsylvania Family Law Blog. Aaron is a partner in Fox Rothschild’s Blue Bell, Pennsylvania office and practices throughout the greater Philadelphia region. Aaron can be reached at 610-397-7989; firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter@AaronWeemsAtty.