Cheryl Chandler was browsing the Internet last Wednesday when she saw a video of an incoherent woman in a thin patient gown, stumbling outside of a Baltimore hospital.
Her heart stopped, Chandler said, when she realized it was her mentally ill daughter Rebecca, whom she had reported missing more than a week before. Someone said she screamed, though she doesn’t remember that.
“I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck,” she said.
Chandler and her other two daughters spoke out Thursday about what happened to Rebecca after she was discharged from the emergency room at the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown on January 9. The family declined to give 22-year-old Rebecca’s last name.
Her story went viral after a local psychotherapist saw her while leaving work and shot video of her at a bus stop outside the hospital as four employees who appeared to be security guards walked away with a wheelchair. The psychotherapist, Imamu Baraka, called 911 and, after a rescue squad responded, she was taken back to the emergency room.
Chandler immediately began looking for her daughter after seeing the video, but hospital staff wouldn’t help, she said, so she called police, who tracked down Rebecca at a homeless shelter. She criticized the hospital for treating her daughter inhumanely when she was at her most vulnerable.
Chandler said her daughter, who is from Charles County, was diagnosed with Asperger’s and a mental illness that she did not specify six years ago. After being removed from another group home for not taking her medication, she was in Baltimore as part of an intense, inpatient residential treatment program, but had gone missing.
The family doesn’t know how Rebecca wound up at the hospital on Jan. 9 — whether she walked in herself or somebody brought her.
Chandler has hired attorney J. Wyndal Gordon to represent her daughter.
Gordon said he was still seeking answers about what medical care was provided that night, as well an emergency room visit Rebecca made to the same hospital five days earlier. He said he had requested medical records from the hospital.
He said it was clear Rebecca was having a psychiatric emergency. Gordon said he’s exploring legal action, but didn’t commit to filing a lawsuit.
“They were under federal obligation to screen and treat her,” Gordon said. “It’s not a misdiagnosis, it’s a dump.”
The head of University of Maryland Medical Center, Dr. Mohan Suntha, has apologized for what happened to Rebecca.
In a statement Thursday, the medical center reiterated that what happened was wrong.
They said that an internal investigation identified a “breakdown in coordination” of the patient’s care after she was discharged to “ensure the social needs of the patient were met.”
The hospital did not say who, if anyone, has been disciplined, though the statement said there was action to “hold individuals accountable.”
New procedures also have been instituted and staff has been trained.
“To reiterate, we take full responsibility for the failure that occurred in demonstrating compassion to this young woman in the post-discharge process after delivering medical care,” said Suntha, University of Maryland Medical Center’s president and CEO, in the statement.
“Last week, we pledged to fully investigate the incident and take appropriate action,” he said. “Over the last week, a cross-departmental team across both UMMC campuses has completed a thorough and unsparing internal review of the circumstances that led to this incident, and is committed to being transparent to the greatest extent possible, given what is allowable by law regarding patient information and personnel matters.”
Hospital officials would not give more details about what employees were disciplined, but said it “spanned multiple layers across several departments.” They would not say if anybody was fired.
The incident also is being investigated by state and federal health regulators.
Gordon and community activists plan to push state lawmakers, who are now in session in Annapolis, to strengthen the laws to better protect vulnerable patients during discharge.
The Rev. Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon said they would set up a hotline by Monday, where patient dumping cases could be reported. He also plans to start demonstrations at hospitals to bring attention to the issue.
Already, a coalition of patient advocates called Marylanders for Patient Rights has been pushing for a patient bill of rights that would ensure patients are treated with dignity and respect and require training of staff in proper procedures.
Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton said he has had an initial conversation with Robert A. Chrencik, CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, which owns the medical center. He plans to hold a briefing Monday with some General Assembly leaders and more representatives from the medical system.
Middleton, chairman of the Senate Finance committee, said he hopes to hold the meeting in private, allowing officials to speak more freely. If open meetings law requires, it will be opened to the public, he said. He wants to better understand what happened before deciding if a broader legislative briefing is needed.
“I’m not interested in getting them down here prematurely so we can whip them up,” Middleton said. “Is this just a policy that was overlooked? Or was this something that could have occurred in any of our hospitals? We have to look at that.”
handler spoke about her daughter during a sometimes emotional news conference at Gordon’s law offices in downtown Baltimore. She was joined by Rebecca’s twin sister, Rosslyn Hall Taylor, and younger sister, Rachelle Hall.
They wanted to correct depictions of Rebecca as homeless and uninsured. Chandler said she has insurance and a loving family. They described her as a jovial animal lover. Her nickname is Panda Bear because that is her favorite animal.
Rosslyn broke down in tears as she described the guilt she felt at not being able to help her sister.
Hall read a statement that she said was from her sister. Rebecca was involuntarily admitted to another hospital a day after being discharged from University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown.
“I am in the hospital and well and furthermore I am safe,” Hall read.
Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.