BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit filed by a Millinocket woman who claims that in July 2007 Eastern Maine Medical Center illegally sent her home — where she delivered her dead fetus in her bathroom — may go forward.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said in his denial of the hospital’s motion for summary judgment that it is up to a jury to decide whether a physician endangered the health of Lorraine Morin, now 36, when he sent her home allegedly knowing she was in labor and close to delivering her unviable 16-week-old fetus.
“We’re pleased with the judge’s decision,” Morin’s attorney, A.J. Greif of Bangor, said Friday. “Eastern Maine’s idea of managed care seems to be: If the patient can’t manage, they don’t care. But, to send a woman home, where she endured 16 more hours of labor before delivering a dead child, is an outrage. A dead infant may be a routine event for Eastern Maine, but it was anything but routine for Lorraine.”
A Bangor attorney employed by the law firm representing the hospital said his client was disappointed with the decision.
“The case will go forward,” Edward Gould said Friday. “Ultimately, a jury will decide if Ms. Morin was in labor or not. Regardless of the judge’s ruling, Eastern Maine Medical Center still feels Ms. Morin received appropriate care at all times from its physicians.”
Morin went to EMMC’s emergency room about 4:30 a.m. on July 1, 2007, for abdominal cramping, according to court documents. She told the clerk that her primary care physician had determined her pregnancy to be high-risk because Morin had had a miscarriage and cervical cancer.
At the time, Morin had two children, at least one of whom had been delivered by cesarean section. Since 2007, she has had a third child, according to her attorney.
After an ultrasound, physicians at EMMC determined the fetus Morin was carrying was not viable, Woodcock wrote in his decision. Dr. Robert Grover, an obstetrician at EMMC, noted that she was having lower abdominal pain and discomfort.
He recommended she go home, prescribed acetaminophen with codeine, and told her to call her primary care physician the next day for follow-up, Woodcock said in his ruling. He also told Morin if her symptoms worsened, she should return to the emergency room, but she did not. About 9 that evening, Morin delivered the dead male fetus at home.
Greif said Friday the fetus was “properly disposed of in a solemn and respectable way,” but he offered no other details.
Morin sued EMMC in U.S. District Court in Bangor in June 2009, claiming that the hospital violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. Woodcock held a hearing on EMMC’s motion for summary judgment on June 29, 2010.
The law prevents a hospital from discharging a patient who is in an emergency medical condition even if the person is uninsured. Morin claims she was sent home while in labor and miscarried in her bathroom when she should have been treated at the hospital because hers was a high-risk pregnancy.
It will be up to a jury to determine whether EMMC medical staff knew Morin was in labor and was suffering from an emergency medical condition that required stabilization, Woodcock ruled.
A trial has been set tentatively for Sept. 7 in federal court in Bangor.