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DC hospital rushing end-of-life process on dying father to free up ventilator, daughter says

Malene Lawrence planned to say goodbye to her dad at the hospital Thursday. But, she claims doctors urged her to come Wednesday because the ICU was full.

WASHINGTON — In just one week, a D.C. woman has gone from having normal conversations and joking with her father to preparing his funeral.

Malene Lawrence says her 89-year old father, George Hawkins, tested positive for COVID-19. Doctors told her his breathing capacity has diminished significantly since he was admitted late last week. 

Hawkins is currently at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Northwest Washington.

"Basically, now I’m left just to make plans," Lawrence said.

Lawrence said she spent Tuesday notifying family, and planned to visit the hospital Thursday to say goodbye. She’ll have to do so without entering her father’s room. Lawrence said that close relatives currently in quarantine in New York will have to see Hawkins by video chat.

But on Wednesday morning, Lawrence claims doctors called her repeatedly, urging the family to begin the end-of-life procedures on Wednesday, instead of Thursday, because the ICU was full and ventilators were needed. 

Lawrence says she's furious.

A spokesperson for Medstar said the hospital wasn't able to comment on Hawkins' specific case, but did release a statement to WUSA9:

"Due to federal privacy laws, we are unable to discuss specific patient issues. In general, however, we have protocols in place to ensure comfort of patients in their last days and hours. During this time, the patient and family members are brought together to discuss the changing goals of care, which can then shift toward maintaining physical comfort, and addressing emotional, spiritual, and social needs. These procedures are all in place to ensure patient comfort and dignity. At the same time, our caregivers involve family members in every step of this process." 

During her coronavirus briefing Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser painted a picture of the current demand on D.C. hospitals. 

Bowser said that, as of Wednesday night, there were 422 ventilators available in the city. She said nearly half of them,185, are already being used.

With an increasing number of coronavirus cases, the Mayor and city health officials have said hospitals are preparing for a surge.

RELATED: DMV now reporting hundreds of new cases of coronavirus per day

"In the coming weeks, we need to work together to flatten the curve," Bowser said. "If you're not well, if you have symptoms of COVID-19 – fever, cough or shortness of breath – we need you to call a doctor, or health care provider, and we need you to stay home."

Lawrence said she understands the need to free up rooms and equipment to save other lives, but doesn't want to rush this critical moment.

So, she said, she's saying goodbye on Thursday.  

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