Robert Tong  /  Marin Independent Journal file
Sarah Nome, 82, bides her time in a room at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Rafael, Calif.
updated 2/16/2005 7:10:57 PM ET 2005-02-17T00:10:57

More than a year after Sarah Nome was deemed healthy and given her discharge papers, the 82-year-old woman stubbornly refuses to leave her hospital bed.

Nome admits there is no reason she should be racking up unpaid medical bills — which have now topped $1 million — but says she has nowhere else to turn.

Now Kaiser Permanente’s San Rafael Medical Center in California is suing her for the cost of her stay and trying to show her the door.

No medical issues
“The thing is, I have no medical problem. I’ve been here more than a year, never had any medication, never had any treatment, never had a fever, have a perfect heart, blood pressure is like a teenager,” Nome said in a telephone interview from the hospital north of San Francisco. “It isn’t that I’m not ready to go. I just have nowhere to go.”

Exasperated hospital officials persuaded a judge to approve her eviction. But because Nome is bedridden and cannot walk, they have no intention of wheeling her onto the street. Instead, they hope the ruling encourages her to pack her bags.

“We’re really not interested in her money,” Kaiser attorney Stanley Watson said. “We just want her cooperation.”

Nome’s troubles began, her daughter Jane Sands says, in 2002 when she broke both her legs while living alone. After several operations, Nome could no longer care for herself and was admitted to the first of several nursing homes.

The most recent one, Nome claims, sent her to the hospital against her will. Hospital officials say she was admitted for a weeklong psychiatric evaluation, was deemed to be in good mental health, was then ordered released.

But because she is suing the nursing homes where she lived before she was hospitalized, Nome and her daughter claim she has no choice but to stay put. Nome is suing the last home she lived in, Greenbrae Care Center, for sending her to the hospital.

A larger, nationwide problem
Watson said hospital officials have tried to find a suitable home for Nome, but Nome and her daughter insist on staying in Marin County, where Nome has spent her entire life.

That puts Kaiser in a difficult position, given Nome’s bedridden state.

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“If a patient were ambulatory, you could simply discharge them and say, ‘Have a nice day,”’ Watson said. “But I can assure you that we don’t plan on having the sheriff come in and physically remove her and put her on the street.”

Greenbrae will not take Nome back because she is suing the nursing home, said Bob Peirce, chief operating officer of Ocadian Hospitals and Care Centers, which runs the center.

“She’s suing us, and we obviously feel very strongly that she has no case,” Peirce said.

Anthony Wright, executive director of the health care advocacy group Health Access California, said Nome’s situation highlights a larger, nationwide problem.

“This issue is becoming more and more contentious because ... we don’t have a long-term care policy in this country, so there is no set way that we take care of seniors who need ongoing care,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nome remains in her hospital gown. She said the doctors and nurses “couldn’t be finer,” but she has missed the news since her television and newspaper privileges were taken away. “I think Bush might still be president,” she quipped.

She passes the time by reading in bed and gazing out the window.

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