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Lawsuit accuses Arnold Palmer Hospital of boy’s death

Seven years after Spencer Beckstead died in hospital’s care, his father is still seeking justice



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According to the Florida Department of Health, a doctor is not obligated to keep a difficult patient, and there are no rules or laws that specifically address how a doctor should go about cutting off a relationship when things go south. However, says Pamela Crain, deputy press secretary for the Florida Department of Health, “The physician is always required to practice within the prevailing standard of care.”

And the prevailing standard, according to Dr. James David Moser, division chief of otolaryngology at Nemours Children’s Hospital – who will testify as an expert witness in Beckstead’s case – is to give patients enough time to make arrangements for appropriate care in the event that a physician should want to terminate a relationship. Moser says that he thinks Farrell made a mistake in firing Spencer as a patient without allowing enough time for the Becksteads to make appropriate arrangements – but even worse, he says, is the fact that the hospital did not step in to fix the error before the patient was harmed.

“Most people might not think that’s a big deal, but it is a big deal,” Moser says. “If you read about firing a patient from your practice, you have to give them 30 days’ care while they try to find a new doctor.”

Moser provided care to Spencer briefly when he was called in to consult on some ear problems. He befriended Beckstead because, as Moser says, “he had the gift of gab and we talked about golf clubs and putters.” He says he checked on Spencer periodically, and when he heard from Beckstead that Farrell had fired the child as a patient, he says he thought, “They are going to fix that.” He says he figured that after a day or so, cooler heads would prevail and either Farrell or hospital administration would realize that the decision to fire Spencer on the spot was a mistake. “Then over the next couple of days, they didn’t,” he says. “And then I heard that Spencer passed away, and it was a surprise to me.”

In his deposition for the Beckstead case, he was asked why he thought Spencer’s situation was so unique that he could not be cared for by a hospitalist (a doctor who specializes in the general care of hospitalized patients). “Well, the fact that he died two days later probably tells you he was in pretty critical condition and should not have been taken care of by a hospitalist,” he responded. “It wasn’t like they came up to him and said, ‘Well, let’s see what we can do to get you transferred to another hospital,’ it was, ‘We’re just not going to take care of you. And, oh, by the way, we’re going to turn you over to our hospitalists, who are not trained to take care of your child.’”

Beckstead’s relationship with Spencer’s caregivers, it must be noted, was not entirely positive – over the time his son was in Arnold Palmer Hospital, there were some pointed suggestions that Beckstead smoked marijuana in or near the hospital (at one point, Beckstead says, he was accused of smoking pot in Spencer's room, while the child was on eight liters of oxygen) and that he had inappropriate conversations with female staff members. At one point, a complaint was made by hospital staff to the state Department of Children and Families that his kids were neglected and living in filth. (DCF determined that the complaint was not founded.) In 2005, he was charged with trespassing for what the hospital’s risk management specialist Posey Kenney called “tampering” with Spencer’s heating and cooling blanket – Beckstead says he was adjusting his son’s blanket after requesting help that never arrived. At one point, he was even accused of having Münchausen by proxy, a syndrome in which a caregiver misleads others into believing that a child has a medical issue that may not exist – again, the state Department of Children and Families determined that the claim was unfounded. According to the police report, hospital administration even decided to videotape Spencer’s room “to protect them from false allegations.”

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