Access Denied: No Health Care, No Lawyer, No Justice for One SF Man
A recent commenter on TortDeform shared his harrowing experience (in this comments thread) fighting for his right to mental health care after being denied emergency medical attention and jailed for insisting on treatment. His story demonstrates once again the importance of having access to the courts, including representation in important civil cases if you can't afford it, a right currently not provided but which is gaining national attention.
A recent SF Bay Guardian article provides the details of Jason Grant Garza's experience. Here's a summary of his experience:
** Garza went to the hospital for emergency mental health treatment and was put in jail for refusing to leave after being denied even a preliminary examination. While in jail a nurse determined that Garza indeed was in need of care. He was strip-searched and left naked in his cell, then brought back to the same hospital that had previously denied him care.
** Garza requested his arrest record, which a lawyer for the Sheriff's Office denied in a letter signed under the pen-name R.N. Ratched--as in the nurse character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Understandably, Garza did not find this "humor" appropriate, so he went to San Francisco's Sunshine Ordinance Task Force to fight the denial of his records and the mockingly unprofessional conduct with which this denial was executed, and the task force agreed.
** After the ordeal, Garza sued the city, SF General, the triage nurse that denied him care, and other city employees, contending they violated his rights under a law regarding emergency medical treatement. He could not afford a lawyer, so he represented himself and lost. However, his six years of fighting for an investigation into his experience ended when the hospital paid a $5,000 fine and admitted that they "did not provide [Garza] with an appropriate medical screening examination on April 22, 2001," in a settlement with the Office of the Inspector General. (Source: SF Bay Guardian article)
It is disturbing that because Garza could not afford a lawyer he was forced to choose between doing nothing and representing himself in court. It forces reflection upon what the outcome would have been had he been able to consult an experienced attorney. One also has to wonder what would have happened if Garza had not been so persistent about demanding care and holding the hospital accountable after his outrageous experience. Is a $5,000 fine enough to prevent this from happening to others in the future?