INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A family from Greenwood is contemplating legal action after a hospital prevented a wife from saying goodbye to her husband dying of COVID-19.
They found out a couple days too late about a new Indiana law that requires visitation be allowed even during a public health emergency.
Diane Houpt had been prepared to say goodbye to her husband for some time, because of his fatal lung disease. But she said the hospital he was at, St. Francis on South Emerson, wouldn’t let her in before he died.
Diane’s sister, Beth Tollison, said the family is sharing their story to help others.
“She’ll never ever see him again,” Tollison said. “She’ll never have that chance to have that interaction with him again. They can’t go back and fix it now. They took that opportunity away.”
Jim Houpt died overnight on May 2, five days before the couple’s 33rd anniversary.
Jim was a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam and earned three Bronze Stars. Tollison said Jim loved his country, his children and music.
Tollison described him as the rock for the family.
“I miss that for her right now, more than anything I can imagine,” Tollison said of her sister.
For years, Jim battled a fatal lung disease called pulmonary fibrosis and was in the end stage.
He got COVID-19 two weeks ago, which quickly required hospitalization at St. Francis Hospital.
“She knew he’s not going to make it,” Tollison said.
Through video calls, he knew it, too.
“He had started asking her, ‘Are you going to be able to get here? Are you going to be able to get here?’ He was telling her, I’m not going anywhere until you get here,” Tollison said.
The Franciscan Health visitor policy for COVID end-of-life patients is that one visitor is allowed who must wear full protective gear.
Tollison said Diane started pleading with anyone she could at the hospital last Friday to allow her to go. For three days, the answer remained no. But then the call came overnight on Sunday: Jim had passed at the age of 73.
“After all that time, they said, ‘You can come now.’ We were like, you can come now? It was so hard to understand. They knew he was dying. They were calling to tell her how badly he was doing every day and just refused to let her come up there.”
It’s an outcome that is infuriating to the family, even as they knew Jim’s time was short anyway because of the pulmonary fibrosis.
“It’s devastating for her,” Tollison said. “She is angry. She is so angry. We all knew we were losing him and that’s bad anyway.”
Since sharing their story, they’ve heard from other families who have had similar experiences at St. Francis.
“We’re not alone,” Tollison said.
Senate Bill 202 was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb three days before Jim’s death. It requires a facility to allow visitation during several compassionate care situations, even during a public health emergency, such as the pandemic.
It’s why Tollison said the family is contemplating legal action.
“Only to make sure that this doesn’t keep happening to people,” she said. “There has to be some common sense used.”
But first comes Jim’s funeral on Monday.
“To be deprived of saying goodbye to him — it took what they thought they had prepared themselves for and made it so much worse,” Tollison said.
Houpt is survived by three children and seven grandchildren.
It’s important to note that Jim’s widow, Diane Houpt, is an employee at WISH-TV, where she’s the commercial traffic manager.
Franciscan Health declined to be interviewed for this story but released this statement:
“Visitor restrictions have been in place at our hospital since the start of the pandemic in mid-March 2020. Due to federal and state regulations regarding the disclosure of our patients’ personal health information, we are unable to comment.
Under the current Franciscan Health policy, patients who are at the end-of-life stage are allowed a visitor in a patient’s room even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically:
Non-COVID End-of-Life: One visitor will be allowed for the duration. A second visitor will be allowed on a rotating basis with no more than two visitors at a time.
COVID End-of-Life: One visitor will be allowed to visit. The visitor must wear full Personal Protective Equipment while in attendance.
During the pandemic, our hospital has adjusted the visitation policy at times as the situation has evolved and is in line with state and federal guidelines. The safety of our patients and their families, visitors, and staff is always paramount at Franciscan Health.
To view our entire visitation policy go to https://www.franciscanhealth.org/patient-resources/visitor-restrictions/franciscan-health-indianapolis.
While we are unable to speak to the details of any specific case, end-of-life designation is typically based on the guidance from the clinical team(s) involved in a patient’s care.”Franciscan Health