Family of severely injured bicyclist says hospital plans to discharge him prematurely

They say officials at the University of Utah Health hospital are threatening to place Ray Hanson, 58, in a homeless shelter or put him on a bus back to Pocatello because he doesn’t have health insurance to pay for his care. Hanson’s family says either move could have disastrous consequences for Hanson who’s still hooked to a feeding tube and is in no condition to leave the hospital.

University of Utah hospital officials have declined to comment on Hanson, but they said that under no circumstances would a patient’s inability to pay for care prompt a decision to discharge.

Hanson is a boat mechanic who was operating a motorized bicycle around 5:45 p.m. Dec. 31 at North Harrison Avenue and West Custer Street in Pocatello when alleged drunk driver Cyrus Wolf Buehler, 35, of Pocatello, struck him with a pickup truck.

The collision was so violent that it nearly bent Hanson’s bicycle in half. Following the crash, Hanson’s injuries were severe enough that he was placed in a medically induced coma at Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello before an emergency helicopter airlifted him to the University of Utah Health hospital.

While at that hospital, Hanson has undergone numerous surgeries including one to reconstruct his face with the support of metal plates and screws in the roof of his mouth connected to wires holding his jaw shut, which requires him to be on a feeding tube for sustenance.

He also suffered both a broken leg and collarbone during the collision and has trouble remembering and communicating because of the trauma to his brain, says Hanson’s brother-in-law Johnny Campbell, who lives in Missoula, Montana, but has spent the last month staying with friends in Ogden, Utah, so he can be close to Hanson.

“The hospital is discharging him on Friday with nowhere to go,” Campbell said during a Tuesday phone interview. “He lives in a basement apartment by himself in Pocatello and (hospital officials) said, ‘Oh he should be able to take care of himself.’”

Campbell said hospital staff members told him and his wife that if they don’t agree to take Hanson home that someone from the hospital “would drop him off at a homeless shelter or give him a bus ticket to Pocatello.”

“I just think that’s crazy,” Campbell said.

Suzanne Winchester, a spokeswoman for the University of Utah hospital, would not comment on Hanson’s condition or the particulars of his care, saying via email that “it is against University of Utah Health’s policy to comment on individual patient cases without the patient’s permission” and that “the patient has not signed a release form at this time.”

“University of Utah Health is committed to providing excellent high-quality care to all our patients,” Winchester wrote. “That care and commitment would never be based on a patient’s ability to pay. We provide more than $130 million per year in uncompensated care.”

Further, Winchester said it would be against hospital policy to release any patient before they are clinically ready to be discharged, and that if follow-up care is required for patients once they’ve been released from the hospital, case management teams work closely with them to establish an appropriate discharge plan.

Winchester said the hospital has financial counselors that help secure funding for insured and uninsured patients and that a case management team assists patients without funding options in applying for financial assistance.

Johnny Campbell said that unfortunately any fundraiser or money raised for Hanson could jeopardize the awarding of Medicaid funds for his care.

The only request from Hanson’s family right now is that he remain in the hospital until he can recover enough to take care of himself.

Buehler was charged with aggravated DUI because Hanson suffered great bodily harm and possible disfigurement in the collision. Buehler was also charged with DUI in 2004 and 2010.

If convicted, Buehler faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. It would also be required that he surrender his license for at least a year and pay restitution. Plus, any evidence used to convict Buehler would be admissible in any civil action for damages resulting from the collision.

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