MACHIAS, Maine — Peggy Segien can’t shake the thought that a prompt phone call could have saved her brother’s life.
A year ago this month, Reid Emery signed a piece of paper and checked out of Down East Community Hospital. His doctors and nurses reportedly made it clear to him that leaving was not a good idea, but they didn’t stop him.
Emery told them he was going home, even though he had no car. No one thought to make sure the patient had a ride or call the man’s family immediately for consultation. The patient was delusional, it was later learned, the result of numerous prescription medications that were administered during his hospital stay. He didn’t even have a coat or adequate shoes when he walked out of the Machias hospital into a major winter snowstorm.
When a call finally was made to Emery’s family, more than an hour had passed.
The next morning, Emery was found dead in a snowbank near the hospital.
In the weeks that followed the 61-year-old Eastport man’s death, the hospital was cited for numerous deficiencies in hospital and staff practice in regard to Emery’s care. To make up for those deficiencies, the hospital was required to alter a number of its internal policies to ensure that the circumstances surrounding his death would not be replicated.
Segien, who is three years younger than her brother and said they couldn’t have been closer if they were twins, said Emery’s death still haunts her.
“I can’t get past what happened,” Segien said in a recent phone interview. “He was sent to the hospital in good faith. He didn’t deserve to die the way he did.”
While DECH changed some of its policies in the wake of Emery’s death, Segien said, the hospital never admitted responsibility. That apparent lack of remorse and compassion has been just as difficult for Segien to get over as her brother’s death.
Hospital officials have declined repeatedly to comment on Emery’s death or the circumstances surrounding it.
“He was a kind, gentle man who needed help and failed to get it,” she said. “God will guide us until we’re able to adjust.”
In April, an autopsy completed by the state medical examiner’s office determined that Emery died from a combination of hypothermia and a drug overdose. The state Attorney General’s Office is still investigating whether criminal charges are appropriate, but so far, none has been filed.
Another investigation into Emery’s death by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded that the hospital failed to adequately meet the needs of the patient. That report also said that there was no evidence that physicians followed hospital policy concerning discharge of patients, and no evidence that nursing staff followed policies concerning suicide precautions and discharge of patients.
Still, other than some changes in policy, the hospital has not faced any penalty, at least publicly.
Rumors have swirled in Washington County that the hospital reached a financial settlement late last year with Emery’s family, a deal that preempted a lawsuit over his death.
Asked recently whether a financial settlement had been reached between the hospital and Emery’s family, a hospital spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny a deal.
Other members of Emery’s immediate family, including his wife and son, also have declined to comment on their dealings with the hospital other than to say they are exploring legal options.
Segien also declined to comment on whether a deal had been made. Instead, as she continues to grieve, she said the point she stresses is that her brother’s death should not have occurred.
“Please let this be a warning to other patients who are sick at any hospital,” she said. “Hopefully, no other family will have to go through what we’re going through.”