Man’s Coronavirus Death Raising Questions About Care For People With Disabilities
AUSTIN, Texas — Disability rights advocates gathered in front of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center over the weekend to remember a man whose coronavirus-related death has divided family members and sparked a public conversation about care given to those with disabilities.
Michael Hickson, 46, died June 11 at St. David’s after being admitted a week earlier. Hickson, who became quadriplegic after a heart attack three years ago, was transferred to St. David’s from another facility as he battled pneumonia in both lungs, a urinary tract infection and sepsis.
He experienced multiple organ failures, and when doctors determined they could not save his life, they switched him from aggressive care to supportive care, hospital officials said.
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His wife, Melissa Hickson, did not support this decision and said it was inhumane treatment. Other members of Michael Hickson’s family said they supported the decision.
Advocates with Texas ADAPT, or Americans with Disabilities Action Planning Team, said they have concerns that Hickson died because the hospital did not value his life as much as an able-bodied person’s. The group on Saturday held signs along Ben White Boulevard with phrases such as “Disabled, Not Disposable.”
Melissa Hickson was not Michael Hickson’s legal guardian at the time of his death. Some time after his heart attack, doctors had determined that Michael Hickson was an incapacitated person. The family had been disputing guardianship before the pandemic, and Family Eldercare — which provides services to adults with disabilities — had been designated his temporary guardian.
St. David’s worked with Family Eldercare to develop Hickson’s treatment plan and followed the organization’s directives regarding his care.
Bob Kafka was one of about 20 people who stood Saturday on Ben White Boulevard to protest over Hickson’s death. Kafka said he holds Family Eldercare in high regard, but he wants St. David’s CEO to meet with members of ADAPT. The group wants someone with disabilities to sit on St. David’s ethics committee to ensure that someone is fighting for the rights of individuals with disabilities.
“I’m a quadriplegic just like Michael was,” Kafka said. “I want to make sure I’m treated equally.”
ADAPT is also calling on the state to investigate Hickson’s death.
Last Thursday, St. David’s issued a lengthy statement about the case.
“This was not a matter of hospital capacity. It had nothing to do with Mr. Hickson’s abilities or the color of his skin,” said Dr. DeVry Anderson, chief medical officer of St. David’s South Austin. Hickson was Black. “We treat all patients equally. This was a man who was very, very ill and in multi-system organ failure. His legal guardian and his doctors worked together, consulting pulmonary and critical care specialists, to determine a care plan that was best for him.”
In a YouTube video, Melissa Hickson said the care plan was against her wishes, and “it’s not right.” Melissa Hickson could not be reached directly for comment.
“Disabled people are people, just like anybody else,” she said in the video. “Black people are people, just like anybody else, and everybody deserves the right to live. Everybody deserves the right to be treated when they’re admitted to the hospital.”
Michael Hickson’s sister, Renee Hickson, said Family Eldercare was communicating with the Hicksons during Michael Hickson’s stay at St. David’s. Renee Hickson is a primary care physician and said she believes St. David’s made appropriate choices regarding her brother’s care.
“They did all they could do to keep him comfortable and to rid his body of infection and to nourish him in his last few days,” Renee Hickson said. “In those last few days, they are not going to continue to do things to him that we know aren’t going to help prolong his life, and certainly not improved his overall well-being.”
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