The cruelty of dying alone

Most people have recently heard of, or have been personally involved in horror scenarios in which loved ones—including confused elderly patients—have died alone, often after weeks or months of isolation in hospitals and nursing homes. Being left to die in isolation not only is cruel, but as many families have learned the hard way, it is imperative that patients and family members pay close attention to what’s going on during a hospital stay.

Ohio House Bill 236, the “Never Alone Act,” intends to ensure that no patient is forced to be left alone when he or she is facing a vulnerable health situation.

“Isolating highly vulnerable individuals and denying them access to people who care for, love and advocate for them is among the most detrimental things we can do to them,” said Dr. Mary Malek, psychologist, testifying in support of the bill. “It is deadly. It is wrong. You don’t need an ‘expert’ to tell you that. Yet here we are.”

Rep. Melanie Miller (R-67), one of the bill’s two sponsors noted the numerous heartbreaking stories of the many Ohioans who died alone during the pandemic. “Staffing shortages and severe inpatient facility protocols left thousands of Ohioans without the attention they desperately needed and even worse, many saw their life end in a cold empty room without a familiar voice or hand to hold,” Miller said.

HB236 would ensure the right of patients in hospitals and other health care facilities to designate an advocate of his or her choosing who could be present at all times, according to the patient’s wishes, including during times of a public health emergencies or other governmental or bureaucratic mischief. The advocate for a patient who is isolated for an infectious disease would be required to conform to a hospital’s personal protection protocols.

Incredibly, there is opposition to the bill.

In testimony to the House Committee on Health Provider Services, Dr. Jonathan Scharfstein, of the Cleveland Clinic and president of the Academy of Medicine of Cleveland and Northern Ohio, came up with a couple reasons to deny patients’ access to a family member or other advocate: “a 2012 study found that visitors to intensive care units (ICU) often neglect to sanitize their hands prior to entering the ICU.”

Another study found that “the mobile phones of patients and their visitors represent higher risk for pathogen colonization than the devices carried by health care workers, indicating additional risks brought in to patients by visitors,” Scharfstein testified.

He concluded, “physicians and the settings they work in are trusted to care for patients and the community to the best of our ability. HB 236 eliminates an important element of discretion that health providers need to have to protect wellness in the broader community.”

This is not to disparage all doctors or all medical settings. However, “trust” is not to be decided on and declared by the medical bureaucracy. Trust is to be determined by a patient and his or her loved ones. Those who trust the system enough to let their loved one be isolated and without a voice will retain the right to do so even if HB236 is enacted.

If you agree that vulnerable patients deserve protection, please contact Committee Chair Rep. Al Cutrona, at, and ask him to call HB236 to a vote.


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