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Hospital tried for years to discharge its $9.2 million patient

TAMPA — Tampa General Hospital tried for years to discharge a young woman who would eventually rack up nearly $9.2 million in charges during a five-year hospital stay.

But court records show its efforts were stymied by disputes with her mother and the lack of suitable options.

The case of Tameka Campbell, who died at age 29 of a progressive nervous system disorder, made headlines when the hospital recently sued her estate for her medical charges. It raises questions about how anyone can spend so long in a hospital when cost-conscious public and private insurers press to have patients discharged as quickly as possible.

Hospital spokesman John Dunn declined to comment, citing patient privacy laws. But court records provide insight into the circumstances that kept Campbell there from August 2004 until her death in June 2009.

By April 2007, records show, Campbell was on a ventilator, unable to communicate. She had an irreversible disease called progressive demyelinating neuropathy, which occurs when immune cells attack the body's nerves.

Campbell had named her mother, Holly Bennett, her health care agent. But Tampa General said Bennett fired all the doctors on the case, was hostile to nurses and failed to show up for meetings. Mother and hospital couldn't agree on basic care.

For example, Campbell was at one point fed through a nasal tube. Doctors wanted to switch to a feeding tube that posed less risk. Her mother refused to allow it; a fight went on for a year and a half.

Early on, Tampa General wanted to send Campbell home, but Bennett refused, the hospital said in court records.

Bennett couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

Contending that Campbell needed nursing care, but not a full-service hospital, Tampa General made more than 150 inquiries to other facilities. All refused to accept a ventilator patient. A bed was found in Ohio, but Bennett didn't want her daughter sent out of state. Florida has only three facilities that will take long-term ventilator patients, records say.

Campbell had Medicaid, and the hospital got $73,000 as of January 2007. But Medicaid denied additional payments.

The court appointed an attorney to represent Campbell, who complained that Bennett stopped visiting her daughter. Bennett criticized the hospital for giving her daughter too much morphine and leaving her in dirty conditions. State officials investigated but found no care problems.

"Ms. Bennett has proven herself unable to work with the hospital staff to the point that it has placed (Campbell) at risk," the court found in April 2007, appointing a legal guardian.

But the records don't explain why Campbell stayed at Tampa General for another two years.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8330.

Hospital tried for years to discharge its $9.2 million patient 07/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 8:24am]
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