A Cleveland, Tenn., man says he was threatened with arrest and banned for life from Tennova Healthcare after he sought help for a homeless man the hospital had just discharged, heavily medicated, alone and in a wheelchair.
"I can't believe the hospital let this guy leave like this," Joshua Standifer told the Times Free Press on Friday as he described pulling the incoherent man out of the traffic on Chambliss Avenue and trying to get him back into the hospital.
Standifer's three Facebook Live videos describing the events had been viewed 20,000 times as of Friday afternoon.
Tennova Healthcare's statement
"Our hospital takes the care and privacy of our patients very seriously. We have practices and policies in place to support the safe discharge of patients. The information conveyed in the videos is not accurate. Unlike the ability of private citizens to discuss sensitive matters publicly, hospitals are held to a high standard that requires we protect patients' health information. Due to federal privacy laws, we are unable to provide more information in this case and, therefore, are unable to comment further. Above all, we are committed to the safety and privacy of our patients."
— Kristine Godfrey, Tennova spokeswoman
Asked for comment Friday, Tennova spokeswoman Kristine Godfrey said via email that "The information conveyed in the videos is not accurate" and the hospital has "practices and policies in place to support the safe discharge of patients."
She said Tennova could not comment further because of strict federal patient privacy laws.
Standifer, a Lee University graduate who is chairman of the Bradley County Young Republicans, said he was arriving for a doctor visit Thursday when he noticed the man, dressed in blue scrubs, in the chair outside the hospital. He said the man was slumped, head down, and seemed stuporous. Standifer asked the nearby driver of what he took to be a hospital shuttle if she could help the man, then went on to his appointment.
The man was gone when he came out, and he thought everything was fine until he spotted the wheelchair in the traffic on Chambliss Avenue. Standifer ran to the man and pulled the chair across the street into the parking lot of a dentist's office. He said the man was dazed, unable to speak, and had urinated on himself. He was wearing a hospital ID bracelet. People in the dentist's office got the man some water while Standifer called a homeless shelter. No one answered. Then he called an ambulance.
The first responders arrived, he said, including a police officer. An ambulance crew member called the hospital and then told Standifer the man had been discharged and couldn't be brought back.
"Well, he's obviously intoxicated from medication, how about placing him under arrest for public intoxication?" Standifer said he asked the officer.
"At least if he's arrested, he'll be safe," he said he argued. But he said the officer, whose name he didn't get, said the homeless man was well-known to local law enforcement and he didn't want to place him under arrest.
Sgt. Evie West, spokeswoman for the Cleveland Police Department, confirmed the man's name is Steve Blackwell and that he is classified as homeless.
"Mr. Blackwell is someone that our officers are familiar with from dealing with him on a regular basis. They have offered assistance to him on several occasions. In fact, we recently had one of our officers commended for providing Mr. Blackwell with assistance," West said via email Friday.
The EMTs and officer were polite and concerned, Standifer said, but when they asked the man if he wanted to go to the hospital, he mumbled "no." They said there wasn't anything they could do.
So Standifer trundled the chair and its occupant back across the street, toward the main entrance, where he said a pair of security guards questioned him. When he said he was trying to get help for an obviously incapacitated person, one guard replied, "Nah, he's not incapacitated, that's just how he is. We get hundreds of people like that here all the time," Standifer said.
Standifer wheeled his chair into the reception area anyway, arguing he at least needed some water and a clean set of scrubs. On the video, one of the guards addresses Blackwell by name, asking if he had someone to come get him or a place to go. Blackwell mumbles "no," and Standifer says he has asked a receptionist to get someone to look at Blackwell.
"This is ridiculous," Standifer says on the video. "If this man had had a vehicle he could have killed somebody."
Then, Standifer said, one of the guards made a call and a man Standifer believes was the head of security showed up in the lobby.
In his third Facebook Live video, he describes a confrontation but doesn't show it. He says that when he admitted he'd made a Facebook Live video inside the building, the security officials demanded he take the posts down. He says they told him the hospital would sue him for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which guarantees patient privacy. When he refused, Standifer says, the security official ordered him to leave or be arrested.
He also says they told him he was banned for life from the hospital and if his wife was there to deliver their child, Standifer wouldn't be able to be there.
"I've been banned from the hospital because I brought a homeless man there and tried to help him out and get health care," Standifer says as he walks away from the hospital, trailed by at least two security guards.
"I just wanted to help this homeless guy. What really makes me mad is I don't know what happened to him," Standifer told the Times Free Press. "We can do better than that. Plain and simple, we can do better. It's ridiculous, it's not right, and we can do better."
Godfrey at Tennova said the hospital had no comment on Standifer's claims of being banned and threatened with arrest. Standifer said he has not spoken to anyone at Tennova since the incident and doesn't know if anything will come of it.
"Honestly, what I would just like is for Tennova to say, 'You're not banned,'" he said.