SACRAMENTO, CA- California’s Supreme Court affirmation of an appellate court’s publicized and blistering indictment of Humboldt County will remain on the record, to be used in subsequent case law. On January26, the State’s highest court upheld the findings of Humboldt’s Superior Court in Humboldt County Adult Protective Services v Judith Magney, in which the county court found that the local Adult Protective Services (APS) agency had submitted unverified evidence, relied on hearsay, defied appellate court rules, and withheld information from the court in regards to a suit filed on the advance life directive of Dick Magney who died in October 2015.
Jeffrey Blanck, Humboldt’s county counsel, was involved in the case and strongly disagreed with that assessment when talking with the Northern California Record.
“When you read the Court of Appeal opinion, it gives the impression that we’re out there hunting for these [situations].” Blanck stated that the APS only got involved after it received a report of possible neglect from a doctor at Magney’s hospital.
According to its website, APS is staffed with “social workers, public health nurses, mental health clinicians, and vocational assistants” who look to protect senior citizens from abuse and neglect.
Four years before his death, realizing he was sick, Mr. Magney and his wife, Judith, conferred with doctors in drawing up his wishes for end time care. He assigned the role of carrying out his plans to his wife, with his sister acting as an alternate.
In late February 2015, Magney was admitted to a hospital in Eureka in a condition described, in a copy of Humboldt County’s request for depublication obtained by the Record, as being close to death and showing signs of neglect. A case analysis determined that it appeared Magney had been left in a bathroom for six to eight weeks before being admitted to the hospital.
Blanck stated that since the day of admittance was a Friday, the County moved quickly to restore medical treatment for a heart infection that Magney is reported to have agreed to.
The County’s actions, according to Blanck, did not violate the directive and were designed to make Magney comfortable in the end, as he had asked to be.
“We weren’t requesting surgery or cutting off an arm. It was simply ‘You need antibiotics to treat a condition that was painful.’”
The County filing states that on the following day, Magney’s condition improved and while he deferred hospice care, he did ask for ‘medical management’. The County alleges that during this time, Ms. Magney continued to advocate for obedience to the orders of the directive.
After being contacted by a doctor honoring the mandatory reporting law, APS dispatched nurse Heather Ringwald, who interviewed Mr. Magney and reportedly found him confused and neglected. Ringwald disagreed with the medical staff’s prognosis and broached the subject of Ms. Magney’s purportedly inadequate home care for her husband.
After several weeks of antibiotic treatment, a new doctor began caring for Magney. After conferring with the couple, the doctor agreed to implement the directive. The County contends that at that point in time, Mr. Magney’s mental condition was highly questionable. Humboldt APS subsequently filed for conservatorship, removing Ms. Magney as health agent.
The incident went before a trial court, which sided with the County but found that Ringwald had failed to disclose a conversation with Magney’s final doctor who followed the directive. The judge ordered the mandatory commencement of life-sustaining medical treatment, but the decision was overturned on appeal by Ms. Magney. The appellate court not only changed the ruling but lambasted Humboldt County and its’ attorneys as well.
In the ruling, the appellate court stated: “We cannot subscribe to a scenario where a governmental agency acts to overturn the provisions of a valid advance directive by presenting the court with an incomplete discussion of the relevant law and a misleading compendium of incompetent and inadmissible evidence and, worse, by withholding critical evidence about the clinical assessments and opinions of the primary physician because that evidence does not accord with the agency‘s own agenda. No reasonable person, let alone a governmental agency, would have pursued such a course.”
Blanck told the Record that the appellate court took unusual umbrage at not being informed about the opinion of Mr. Magney’s third and final doctor.
“We referenced the two previous doctors and Mr. Magney’s statements that he wanted continued treatment. The appellate court said ‘Ah, you didn’t tell us about the last doctor’. But then you have dueling doctors anyway; one is saying yes and one is saying no” so that lack of reference would have been moot claimed Blanck.
While the public chastising of APS and Deputy County Counsel Blair Angus, who had pushed for the conservatorship over Magney, is a rather rare action by a court, the level of court alleged transgressions apparently motivated the decision to publish the findings.
Humboldt County petitioned the State Supreme Court to depublish the findings because, according to Blanck, the appellate court dismissed the evidence of neglect, the medical records and APS investigation notes. The request was denied because, the court said, the county lacked a reasonable cause for the request.
Judy Thomas, CEO of Coalition for Compassionate Care, was asked what issue was at the root for such legal fighting.
“We do have a literacy issue in society,” replied Thomas. “People don’t know what the aging process looks like through the very end of any serious illness or chronic condition all the way to active dying.”
This lack of awareness has physical ramifications to it that tend to be counter-productive if misdiagnosed. Thomas said that once dying actively and irreversibly begins, sustaining treatment can cause undo suffering while it tries to fight a natural process.
“Hopefully people will still have advance directives and not be scared off by this,” said Thomas.