Local hospital removes ventilator despite man's efforts to keep wife alive

HOUSTON – A family’s fight to overcome legal and financial hurdles to keep their matriarch alive took a painful turn Monday after a 10-day window expired, allowing doctors to remove her from a ventilator. 

Carolyn Jones was being treated at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital. Jones suffered a stroke two years ago and has been treated at Memorial Hermann Southwest since last fall. Earlier this month, Jones’ family was notified of a decision to take her off of ventilation, eventually, following parameters outlined in a section of Texas’ Advance Directives Act. 

At issue is a so-called 10-day rule, which Jones’ family said unfairly gives doctors the right to decide whether the 61-year-old gets to live.

"You have prisoners on death row. They're waiting to get executed. This is the same situation we're dealing with here," said Donald Jones, Carolyn Jones’ husband.

Donald Jones, along with the couple’s daughter, Kina, spoke with KPRC2 outside Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital on Monday. The family confirmed doctors took Carolyn off ventilation after 2 p.m. Monday, after the 10-day window to move to a new facility expired.

"It's not right, not for someone that is loving and is caring and has done nothing but serve 61 years of help, to just discard her like an animal," Kina Jones said.

How does 10-day-rule work?

The Jones family received word earlier this month that it had 10 days to find a new medical facility for Carolyn. That’s outlined in the law.

It gives a patient or their caregiver 10 days to find a new medical facility or risk the removal of life-sustaining treatment. 

An analysis of a bill to abolish the 10-day rule says, “Under Chapter 166.046, Health and Safety Code, if a doctor or hospital decides not to honor a patient's advance directive, the doctor can withdraw life-sustaining treatment, such as a ventilator, after 10 days' notice to the family. Families only have this 10-day window to transfer their loved one to a different facility before basic life-sustaining measures are discontinued. If the family cannot find another facility in 10 days (which is often the case), the doctor can remove the treatment and the patient dies.”

A full version of the analysis can be found here.

A copy of the bill, called SB 2089, can be found here.

Hospitals have said it's the last thing they want to do, stressing it comes after all options for treatment have been explored and deemed ineffective by a patient’s doctor.

An ethics panel at the hospital reviews the case and makes an ultimate decision on the matter. Once a panel at Memorial Hermann rendered its decision on Carolyn Jones, her family rushed to find a new facility before time expired. They found one but hit another hurdle: money.

"That's $25,000 to $35,000 a month,” said Donald Jones, referring to costs to house his wife at a different facility.  

Carolyn Jones has been taken off the ventilator.

As of Monday evening, she was still alive, according to her family. The family told KPRC2 doctors informed them that, if she survives the night, they would remove her from other treatment, including dialysis. 

The family hoped for a last-minute effort to raise money for a transfer Monday. As the family members waited at Carolyn Jones’ bedside, they spoke of a woman who loved adventure, especially on her motorcycle, before she suffered a stroke.

"She'd ride day in and day out," Kina Jones said.

The family has pushed for the passage of SB 2089.

The bill calls for the abolition of the 10-day rule, requiring medical care facilities to provide minimal life-supporting care indefinitely until a patient’s caregiver is able to secure a transfer to a new facility. 

The bill was referred to the Committee on Health and Human Services. It passed that committee by a  vote of 6-3 on May 1.