Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Deaf woman says Chicago hospital promised her a cochlear implant

From FOX Chicago News:

CHICAGO -- A deaf woman without insurance says she would be able to hear again if a local hospital will keep its promise.

She tells us the hospital rescinded its offer to provide free cochlear implants because it determined getting her hearing back is an elective surgery.

In this special report, what the hospital calls a misunderstanding, she calls misleading.

Carolyn Fowler (pictured) is happiest when she’s nannying for baby Alexandra.

What she can't hear is Alexandra’s laugh or cry. Instead, all she hears is silence.

Carolyn is completely deaf, but she wasn't always this way.

She grew up a normal child in Elburn, Ill., and lived a normal life for 40 years. Then one morning last year, she woke up surrounded by silence.

“When it first happened you feel like less of a human being, like you don't count,” Carolyn said.

Her condition is an extremely rare side effect to medication she took when her lungs got infected.

“The medicine I had to take was very expensive and that medicine is what created the hearing loss,” Carolyn said.

It came on so suddenly, Carolyn hasn't even learned sign language yet.

To get by, she attempts to read lips, but as we found in our interview, her mom Barbara has to write down most of our questions.

“I do feel like whenever I’m out in public, people look at me like I’m unprepared,” Carolyn explained. “I’m already a burden on my mom, she spends two to three hours on the phone doing work I would normally doing, making appointments, making phone calls I can’t do now.”

Of course, there's another reason Carolyn hasn't learned sign language. Her hearing loss doesn't have to be a permanent loss.

“We had three doctors tell us a cochlear implant is the only way she can hear again and they’re very expensive,” Carolyn’s mom Barbara explained.

The entire procedure can sometimes cost nearly $100,000. Without insurance, Carolyn applied for a charity program through Loyola Hospital.

“We wrote a three-page letter asking for help,” Barbara said.

And they got a letter in return saying their application for financial assistance had been approved for a 100 percent discount -- an answer to their prayers until they called to make an appointment.

“When I called to schedule it, the gal said, ‘Oh I’m sorry, we don't do cochlear implants for charity cases.’”

A mistake Barbara says the hospital refused to honor no matter how hard she tried.

“It’s very hard… This is much harder on me than my cancer, than my husband's open-heart surgery, and the reason why it’s harder is because there's help out there for her, but I can't get it,” Barbara said.

“This was my dream, the only chance I’d have to hear,” Carolyn said.

“How can a big hospital do that to people?” Carolyn asked.

According to attorney Robert Clifford they can do that because the letter is not a contract.

Clifford, who specializes in personal injury and malpractice lawsuits, reviewed Carolyn’s case for us.

“In my opinion what's stated in this letter does not bind them to provide the medical services that were discussed nor does it bind them to wave all costs,” he said.

But after FOX Chicago News made a couple of phone calls, the hospital now does feel bound to do Carolyn’s surgery -- blaming her case on a communication breakdown.

In a statement, the hospital says, “Each year, Loyola awards nearly $19 million in charity care to uninsured families… as with other hospitals our policy excludes elective procedures, including cochlear implant surgery. However, when our own process results in a misunderstanding like this one, we must look beyond our policy to do what is right and compassionate.”

For Carolyn, that's music to her ears.

“I’ve already started thinking about CDs I’m going to purchase,” she said. “I’m very excited about concerts and music and radio in my car.”

But the very first thing she wants to hear after her surgery is “…The baby I take care of, ‘cause I never heard her,” she said.

Carolyn plans to have the surgery in the next few weeks.

She won't be able to hear immediately after it's done; the entire process takes a few months.

If you have a problem with a hospital, attorney Robert Clifford suggests first thing you should do is go to the patient advocate or the Illinois Department of Public Aid.