June 27, 2012 -- A North Carolina father is embroiled in a legal battle with a hospital that wants to assume guardianship of his comatose son.
A hearing was held on Tuesday to determine who will make the medical decisions for Freddie Lempe, 18, of Smithfield, N.C. The teenager has been in a coma since a car accident on March 6, 2011.
Lempe was in the passenger seat of a car that spun out of control on Highway 39 in Johnston County, N.C., throwing him out of the car. While the driver walked away with only minor injuries, the accident left Freddie with both brain and spinal cord trauma.
Now, WakeMed, the Raleigh hospital in which he has been receiving care for over a year, has filed a suit in Wake County Courthouse to replace Lempe's father as his legal guardian to ensure that the overwhelming amount of paperwork is completed so that the teenager is eligible for Medicaid.
According to Freddie's father, Fred Lempe, Freddie had coverage, but he was not notified that Medicaid was being terminated.
"He had coverage and the hospital has been paid," Mr. Lempe said. "I know they've been paid close to $2 million throughout the year of 2011. The question is if the Medicaid was in effect after that."
Mr. Lempe said that while WakeMed social workers contacted him to reapply for his son's Medicaid at the end of 2011, he was informed by the Johnston County Department of Social Services that his son's current Medicaid plan was up for renewal in April 2012.
"We never got notified that Medicaid was being terminated," he said. "This has been a nightmare."
Currently, Freddie Lempe does not have Medicaid coverage -- which reimburses hospitals -- for his care.
"The intent of the guardianship request is to secure Medicaid coverage for which we believe Freddie is eligible," said Heather Monackey, spokesperson for WakeMed. "As written in the court documents, the father has not followed through in filing the appropriate paperwork to get Medicaid approved."
She said that while WakeMed often files for guardianship, it's usually as a result of patients who do not have health care advocates.
Monackey said the hospital is seeking to appoint a third party to advocate for Lempe, and that the hospital would not assume guardianship because it would be a conflict of interest.
"In this case, it is the patient's right to have the financial resources offered by Medicaid. Our intention in seeking a guardianship change is to make sure that the patient has access to these resources," she said.
Monackey said that WakeMed will withdraw the guardian modification request if Mr. Lempe completes the Medicaid application.
A lawyer for the elder Lempe could not be reached for comment at this time.
Lempe's father has created a petition on Facebook to stop WakeMed's attempts to remove him as his son's guardian.
Blair Williams, the chief assistant clerk of court in Wake County who oversaw the hearing, said that Wake County deals with more guardianship issues than any other court in the state.
Williams said that while Mr. Lempe appears to be his son's best advocate, being a guardian is a full-time job.
"Typically when we're doing these hearings, a reoccurring pattern might be that the individual is all of a sudden thrust into an arena where they're not used to having to access all the different community resources that are available."
Williams said the issue at hand is whether or not an individual's guardian is aware of all of the things a particular ward may need.
"If you're a full time care provider, I don't know of any human who would be able to give the type of care that they would need to on a full-time basis without any breaks," he said. "When you're faced with day to day decisions for your ward, it's tough to get outside of that and look at the bigger picture.
"It takes a lot of resources to be a good guardian, and a lot of people kind of think that this is what they should be doing. They have all the good intentions and it just ends up being a very difficult job to do," he said.
Williams ruled that Mr. Lempe should be allowed to serve as his son's guardian until July 25, when "hopefully, he would be able to demonstrate that he has been able to plug into everything that Freddie would need."
"There's no one who could care about you more than a family member," he said. "But on the other hand, we're also blessed with having very well educated and caring health care professionals within Wake County to give these guardians assistance."