On July 4, 2017, my mother called me around 10:30/11:00 PM. An ambulance was on its way to her home. My father, Glenn, aged 73, just had a seizure. The EMTs thought he might be having a stroke and wanted to take him to Mercy Hospital because they thought he would get the best care there.
Soon after arriving in the emergency room we learned it was not a stroke but a brain tumor. The next morning, we met with a neurosurgeon who told us it was glioblastoma. The prognosis was not good. Dad would need surgery, radiation and chemo just to buy him a little more time. The question about insurance came up. Dad had a Highmark Medicare plan. You could tell that the doctor knew the problems we were about to encounter. Dad could be treated at Mercy until he was well enough to be discharged because he was admitted through the emergency department. But because dad was a Highmark customer, the neurosurgeon could not transfer Dad’s care to his colleagues at Hillman.
The doctors and nurses at Mercy stabilized dad and put him on anti-seizure medications but there was nothing left that they could do. The doctor tried his best to find a way to keep dad within the UPMC system so they could begin his cancer treatments ASAP. He couldn’t transfer dad from Mercy to Hillman but said it might be possible if we went to the emergency department at Shadyside that they could admit him to Hillman. We took my now very sick father directly from Mercy to Shadyside’s emergency department. The emergency doctor started to admit dad when a nurse/case manager entered the room and stopped the process. Because of dad’s Highmark insurance, his cancer could not be treated at UPMC. He would have to leave.
Instead, we went home and looked for doctors at Allegheny Health Network. Within a few weeks, dad started treatment there. Dad’s diagnosis was terminal and his outcome would not have been different regardless of where he was treated; however, it was ridiculous that someone as sick as he was had to be caught up in a pointless dispute between two multi-million/billion dollar companies. It was also incredibly cruel to both my father and mother, after receiving such a dire diagnosis, to be essentially shown the door and left to begin navigating another health care system when my dad could have just as easily stayed within UPMC to continue his treatment.