Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Friday, November 11, 2005

Grieving mother's law passed

Simple ID a hard sell for doctors

You would think that asking people to wear an ID badge while at work that shows his or her level of experience would be a simple and reasonable request.

Especially when people’s lives are in their hands.

But not for doctors in South Carolina.

They will wear them now. But it took three years of trying and $20,000 of a bereaved mother’s money paid to a pair of professional lobbyists to make it happen.

The story is told by news columnist John Monk in the June 10 issue of the South Carolina newspaper The State.

Monk writes that the mother, Helen Haskell, hired the two lobbyists, Jack West and Ron Fulmer earlier this year to push for the law after her son, Lewis Blackman, then 16, bled to death in 2000 while a patient at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The hospital’s insurance company paid out $900,000 to settle a negligence lawsuit. The suit alleged that inexperienced doctors – known as ‘residents’ – repeatedly dismissed signs over a 30-hour period that the boy was bleeding internally.

After her son died, Haskell began pushing for a law that would require doctors to wear the IDs, and that hospitals put patients or their families in contact with experienced doctors when there are concerns about a patient’s safety.

Had that happened when Blackman was in the hospital, Haskell believes an experienced physician would have seen what was wrong, and that her son would still be alive.

But after three years of trying, Haskell’s proposed law was still stuck in committee. It was then that she used some of the settlement money to hire the two lobbyists.

It still wasn’t easy; The apparently simple requirement was vigorously opposed by both the hospital and the South Carolina Medical Association, each of which had its own full-time lobbyist working against the measure.

But finally, after removal of a clause that said an inexperience doctor’s failure to wear an ID could be used in a lawsuit, the bill was approved by both houses of the state Legislature. It then went to Gov. Mark Sanford.

Sanford didn’t sign it because, he said, it would drive up medical costs. But he didn’t veto it either, and on June 8, 2005, the Lewis Blackman Hospital Patient Safety Act became law.

Thanks to one determined mother, Lewis Blackman’s unnecessary death will almost certainly save many other lives.