Contributed to TLB by: Health Impact News and Medical Kidnap
Savannah Garcia, or Hannah, as she is known to those who love her, is a fun-loving young lady who is an important part of her community in Traverse City, Michigan. The 20 year old is a regular fixture at her neighborhood ballpark, where she cheers on her favorite players, and she is well-loved by all who know her. She loves her dog, her family and friends, stuffed animals, frappes, and her fiance. Even though she is autistic, she has been living in an apartment attended by a care team, and has been involved in making many of her own choices.
Until September 4, 2015.
That was the day that 2 doctors at Munson Medical Center filed a petition to remove Hannah’s mother as her guardian and to name a person completely unknown to the family, Stephanie Strehl, as her guardian. Health Impact has learned that psychiatrist Dr. Marilyn Conlon and internist Dr. Hal Yost are the physicians behind the charges, yet reportedly they have still not yet consulted with, or even spoken to, Hannah’s long term primary care physician. Nor have they fully reviewed Hannah’s records, according to her attorney Calvin Luker, reported by the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Yet their chosen guardian has taken away all semblance of choice and basic civil liberties from Hannah.
How Hannah Wound Up as a Prisoner at Munson Hospital
According to a press release issued by the RespectABILITY Law Center,
Hannah has a medical condition, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, where pressure builds in her brain causing painful, punishing headaches. In 2012, surgeons installed a shunt to drain the fluid that causes the pressure.
Sometimes these shunts need adjustments, which is called a “shunt revision.” The details of the summer of 2015 may be found in the press release, but it comes down to this: on several occasions, beginning in May 2015, Hannah began having severe headaches. Always under consultation with her primary care doctor and neurosurgeon, her mother took her to 3 different hospitals on different occasions where objective medical testing revealed that there was an increase in intracranial pressure, which was causing debilitating headaches. Each time that surgery was performed, they found a medical reason for her severe pain, including a blockage in the tubing with cells. Another time, the tubing itself had become disconnected, and had to be repaired.
On the latest discharge on August 30, she was sent home with “significant pain prescriptions.” At this point, her family requested palliative care to manage these pain medications, because her normal caregivers are not able to oversee narcotic pain relievers, according to information on the #freehannahg Facebook page. This request would later be interpreted as a request for Hospice care, rather than palliative care, because such care is actually administered by Hospice of Northern MI.
In less than 24 hours at home, Hannah was screaming, “My head hurts!” A nurse practictioner took her to Munson Hospital on August 31, because it was the closest one to her. Munson had not previously been involved in her care, and the physicians allegedly blamed Hannah’s behavior on her autism. Those who knew her recognized that her behavior was uncharacteristic. Munson doctors’ solution was to double her dose of morphine.
When Hannah slept through a scheduled dose of morphine, her family noticed that she appeared “markedly improved.” They began to refuse subsequent doses. It turned out that Hannah had been having an adverse reaction to the morphine. After 18 hours morphine-free, “She was her happy cheerful self again.”
Munson Doctors Disagree With Previous Care of Hannah and Medically Kidnap Her
Hannah hadn’t even been in Munson for half a day before 2 doctors, Dr. Marilyn Conlon, psychiatrist, and Dr. Hal Yost, internist, began questioning the previous hospitalizations and shunt revisions. By September 2, without consulting Hannah’s primary care physician or any of the neurosurgeons who performed the shunt revisions, they began seeking to get her mother out of the picture as Hannah’s guardian.
On September 4, they succeeded in persuading Judge Larry Nelson to remove her mother as guardian and place a stranger to the family, Stephanie Strehl, over her care. Since that day, Hannah has been effectively held prisoner at Munson Medical Center.
According to Hannah’s attorney, Calvin Luker, the hospital staff:
…did so without introducing one page of medical records into evidence. They entered no evidence that the doctors or hospitals who treated Hannah performed any hospital procedures without objective diagnostic proof that the procedures were medically necessary. In fact, the only testimony questioning Hannah’s need for spring/summer neurosurgery was the subjective opinions by a Munson Hospital internist and psychiatrist who only knew Hannah for four days at the time the petition had been filed and who have no personal knowledge of what medical treatment Hannah received prior to her August 31st hospitalization.
He states that he is challenging the judge’s order,
because many of the facts upon which it was issued are false and it deprives Hannah of her right to counsel.
Ms. Brown is a caregiver who has been a part of the health team caring for Hannah since she was a little girl. She met Hannah and her family when Hannah was just a year old. To Ms. Brown, it is:
really frightening that two people can have that much power over somebody else’s life.
She calls it a “lack of academic humility.” She notes that this truly could happen to anybody with a disability, which is scary to many of Hannah’s advocates.
Munchausen by Proxy and “Doctor Shopping”
No charges have been filed, but the Munson doctors have accused Hannah’s mother of Munchausen by Proxy, a condition which many have called “quack” science, and a convenient accusation for getting parents out of the way who dare question doctors or ask for a second opinion. No doctor has examined Hannah’s mother in order to reach such a conclusion.
Other parents who have simply advocated for their children with complex medical conditions include a number whose stories we have reported, such as Michelle Rider, Melissa Diegel, the Pelletiers, Lakisha Tanna, and Jessica Gilmore, among others. See:
Advocates want to know how a mother can be accused of causing conditions that have real medical causes, as verified by objective testing. Ms. Brown says that she asked a doctor if there was any possible way that Hannah’s mother could have done anything to cause her daughter’s intracranial pressure, but was told that it would not have been possible. She also says that the doctors were the ones telling the family that the shunt was the only way to relieve the pressure in Hannah’s head that was causing her so much pain.
Ms. Brown says that neurosurgeons tend to be an “arrogant breed.” As laughable as it is, she wonders how Hannah’s mother could be so powerful and persuasive that 3 different neurosurgeons could be so easily manipulated by her to perform unnecessary brain surgery. Should these surgeons be offended by Conlon and Yost’s accusation against Garcia, which are, in effect, an indictment against their own medical judgment?
When doctors or social workers accuse a parent of Munchausen by Proxy, it is not uncommon for them to throw out the term “doctor shopping.” Parents of children with mysterious or rare illnesses maintain that they are simply seeking answers, and trying to find the best possible care for their child. This advocacy is a mark of good parenting, not bad, yet their efforts are turned against them and twisted into something it is not.
According to Luker:
Parents feel like they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they take their kids to the doctor, then someone is going to say they overreact and don’t know how to care for their child. If they don’t take them and something happens, someone is going to accuse them of neglecting their child.
Advocates point out that, even if Hannah’s mother were guilty of causing the problems, Hannah’s civil and Constitutional rights are still being violated. What her mother does or doesn’t do is irrelevant at this point, because there are easily at least 8 to 10 relatives and close friends who are capable and willing to step in to bring Hannah home, and oversee her care. Yet, the court-appointed guardian holds all the control, and does not appear to be answerable to anyone.
Doctors Want to Put Hannah into an Adult Foster Care Home
Hannah has been medically ready for discharge since mid-September, but the guardian and hospital refuse to release her to her own home or to live with family or friends. In her apartment, she was attended by a support system from Community Mental Health. But the guardian has fired that entire staff, and has blocked their access to her. They want to institutionalize her against her will into an Adult Foster Care home, a move which her attorney says could violate her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
He says that this will expose her to “physical, medical and emotional harm.” Advocates report that Community Mental Health says that such a facility is inappropriate to meet her needs. She has the legal right to live in the “least restrictive setting” that will meet her needs. Family and friends say that is in her community surrounded by people she loves and who love her. According to Luker,
She’s already shown she can live safely in her current environment. To take her into foster care is going to jeopardize all the factors on which her stable life depends.
Physician-chosen Guardian Isolates Hannah From Her Entire Life and Denies Her Basic Civil Rights
Michigan has a code of rights retained by mental health patients, but these rights (listed here), and some of her basic human rights, are allegedly being violated by the new guardian and Munson Hospital. The young lady who loves the warmth of the sun on her face hasn’t been outside of Munson Medical Center for over a month. Instead, she is confined to her room and a “family room” on the 7th floor of the hospital.
She hasn’t been allowed to see or pet her therapy dog. She hasn’t been able to go for a walk or go to the ballpark, where, until now, Hannah was a regular fixture.
The guardian, Stephanie Strehl, has forbidden every single one of Hannah’s friends to see her. Her family, including her brother and grandparents, aren’t allowed to visit her. Her mother has been the only loved one permitted by the new guardian to visit her, for 3 hours per day. At the end of last week, Hannah’s sister was granted the privilege of visiting her for up to 1 hour a day. She lives and attends medical school 5 hours round-trip away.
Her attorney can see her, IF he notifies them 48 hours in advance, and then he is only allowed 30 minutes.
When she goes to the bathroom or takes a shower, she isn’t even allowed to shut the door.
She isn’t permitted to attend meetings where people other than her family are making decisions for her life and future. Therapies that were previously scheduled before her confinement at Munson have allegedly been cancelled, and her caregivers all dismissed.
Even the right to receive mail, another right retained by convicted felons, has been taken away from Hannah since around September 21.
Local Community Rallies for Freedom for Their Hannah
The community has come together to rally for Hannah’s freedom. Friends and family have been standing outside of the hospital, where Hannah can see them from the 7th story family room on the only floor of the hospital where she has been allowed to be for the past month. Every day, rain or shine, supporters stand outside peacefully from 3:30 to 6:00 pm, holding up signs and waving to Hannah. Passersby honk their horns. They want her to know that she has not been forgotten.
College students from Grand Valley State University have made signs to #FreeHannahG.
She is sorely missed by the community, the people who saw her every day. Ms. Brown reports that Hannah has always been a delight to everyone around her. She is the kind of girl where “everybody knows her name.” Ms. Brown teared up explaining the effect Hannah has on people and how much she is missed.
They walk away and they’re joyful. THAT’S what she does for people.
This town NEEDS Savannah [Hannah] around.
She needs to go to the ballpark. How can anyone have fun at the ballpark without her?
How You Can Help
If you live in the area, supporters invite you to join them at the corner of Sixth and Beaumont, where they are determined to rally every day from 3:30 to 6 pm until Hannah comes home.
There is a Facebook page set up to follow the story and find out more ways to help at #freehannahg, which is also the Twitter hashtag that supporters are using.
Hannah loves dogs, so a separate Facebook page has been set up for the public to send photos and drawings of dogs to encourage her in her isolation – Dog Pictures for Hannah. She is able to see the pictures.
Since mail is not reaching her at the hospital, cards and letters may be sent to P.O. Box 186, Grawn, MI 49637. Her mother will get them and take them to her daughter. Besides dogs, she loves Green Day, Rik Mayall, and anything funny (and in good taste).
The public is also invited to call Governor Rick Snyder’s office at (517) 335-7858(517) 335-7858. He may also be contacted here. His motto is “Getting It Right. Getting It Done.” The right thing to do, say supporters, is to free Hannah.
Heartfelt Plea from Hannah’s Grandmother
Hannah’s grandmother Kendra Barnes penned these powerful words on Thursday, October 8, and shared her heart on the public Facebook page:
As I wake up this morning and plan my day I am reminded of all the freedom I have to decide where and when I leave the warmth of my home. Then I am reminded that my granddaughter has none of those freedoms I have enjoyed in the last 39 days. Today as I stand on the corner of Sixth and Beaumont, come rain or shine, I chose to do what she can’t. How are people able to look into her eyes and treat her as if she is a possession and not a person who has wants, desires, and dreams? How do they sleep at night knowing they have ripped her away from family, friends, and community. This is day 39. I never thought the courts would allow this to drag on and on. There is one thing I am thankful for and it is the staff who care for my Hannah and treat her the way she should be treated. There have been some very wonderful nurses and sitters who truly see our Hannah as the special woman she is and treat her with kindness and dignity. To you, I say thank you from myself, my family, Hannahg’s friends, and all those working to bring her home. To those of you who take away her dignity, insisting she go to the bathroom and take a shower with the door open, may you never find yourself in the same situation. It is degrading, she has done nothing to deserve this. She is not a criminal, she is a hostage. Please reconsider your choices and put yourself in her place before making such decisions. Simple kindness and respect go a long way in helping this young woman endure what she has been made to endure.
Supporters have put together a shareable YouTube video about Hannah’s story:
Update Hannah Is Free!
Hannah said “I’m free!” YES! HANNAH IS FREE! #freehannahg