John Albers was seeing a therapist to help him with his stress management. The therapist advised him to call a suicide hotline in order to have someone he could talk to help him relieve his stress.
In June, he called. He let them know that this was not an emergency and chose the option for an online chat with someone at the center. He waited for five hours for someone to chat with and was told that the call volume was too high and that he would be on the list for a chat the next day.
Albers was angry over the long wait time and then being told he had to wait until the next day. He voiced his frustration to the counseling center stating:
“There was no doubt in my mind that if he continued to treat people that way he would eventually happen across someone who was in crisis and push them over the edge into doing themselves permanent if not fatal harm.”
After sending his angry message, he shutdown him computer and went to bed. He was awakened around midnight to find the police at his door. They informed Albers that they had received a report that he was in danger of harming himself and that they were taking him to a nearby psychiatric hospital.
The news was upsetting to him and he told the police that he was fine and that he didn’t need help. They wouldn’t accept his statement and took him to the hospital. Albers told the people at the hospital that he was fine and refused to be admitted, but they admitted him anyway against his will. Albers was seen by a staff psychiatrist in the morning who determined that he was not in any danger of harming himself. Albers was released after seven hours in the hospital.
If that wouldn’t anger someone, receiving a bill from the hospital for $2,007.75 did. Albers blew a gasket and said he should not have to pay the bill since he refused admission at every turn and that it was done against his will. He pointed out that the psychiatrist discharged him without indicating he was in any danger.
It turns out that the center he sent the email to reported it to police and they responded, leading to the forced hospital stay and subsequent bill. Albers is now questioning whether he has to pay the hospital bill.
The question was put to David L. Trueman, an attorney who specializes in healthcare issues. According to him there are three questions that need to be asked concerning issues like what happened to Albers:
“The first is whether police (or EMTs or whoever the responder is) acted reasonably in taking the person to the hospital. Did the information they had make the action they took seem reasonable?”
“The second is, if it was reasonable to bring the person to a healthcare facility, was the hospital entitled to admit him or her? (This is generally done on the order of the attending physician.)”
“Third is whether the person who was admitted was unable to give consent but received services. That could happen if a person were unconscious, a minor or otherwise unable to give informed consent. ‘If you receive services, and there is a reasonable basis to believe you needed them, someone has to pay,’ Trueman said. In cases where there is doubt about whether a person needed hospitalization or treatment, Trueman said, courts tend to err on the side of protecting the individual from potential harm.”
In other words, Albers has only two options: pay the bill or hire an attorney and take the issue to court. It will probably cost him more to hire an attorney than he would save in winning a lawsuit, unless he could get added payment for mental duress or something like that. Ignoring the bill will only ruin his credit and put him at the mercy of a collection agency.
The lesson learned is that people need to be careful what they say to anyone else as you never know when someone will show up at your house and haul you away for a night in a psychiatric hospital that will only make you more upset, especially when you get their bill.