George Morris has stood by his wife, Dorothy, for 36 years, literally through sickness and health.
When a case manager suggested moving her at noon Friday from Modesto's Doctors Medical Center to a facility in Southern California, Morris dug in his heels.
Drastic measures, such as lying down in front of the ambulance, flashed through the mind of this Stockton resident.
But after talks with hospital staff and the state's Medi-Cal program, 70-year-old Dorothy Morris remained in her hospital bed Friday afternoon, breathing with the aid of a ventilator and basking in the warmth of her family.
"It really upset her," George Morris said. "All of a sudden they were telling her she had to go to LA. She wasn't going to see her family."
Dorothy Morris, who is terminally ill with lung disease and other complications, is one of the many patients who were displaced by the closure of Kindred Hospital Modesto early this year.
Because of numerous regulatory violations, Kindred lost its federal Medicare funding, became unprofitable and was closed by its parent company.
Shutting down Kindred left a void for people with disabling injuries or illness who need to be in long-term acute care centers or facilities for patients on breathing devices.
Dorothy Morris was transferred from Kindred to Doctors, where she has stayed for nearly nine months.
Her family was informed Thursday that Anthem Blue Cross no longer would cover her hospital bills and it was time to move her to an appropriate facility.
Given the shortage of long-term care hospitals, the closest bed for Dorothy was in Buena Park, more than 340 miles south of Modesto.
If she were transferred there, her iPhone would have been her only connection with loved ones. And that wasn't acceptable to her family.
"You can't just rip people away from their families with the little life they have left and make them die alone," said Scott Morris, her son. "I don't know if she would have survived the trip."
His mother has been unable to speak since a breathing tube was inserted in her throat a year and a half ago. But she communicates by writing notes, and family members can read her lips.
Scott said his mom likes to hear the latest about him and his fiancée, and she does arts and crafts in her room.
"My mother has had health problems for most of her life," he said. "But she just stays motivated. When she was young, she was put in a body cast (after spinal surgery) and she learned to draw with her toes."
Later Friday, a case manager at Doctors discovered a bed was available at a Porterville facility, a three-hour drive away. By that time, George Morris realized the hospital needed his signature to transfer Dorothy, and he declined.
A temporary solution came when the Medi-Cal program agreed to cover her bills at Doctors. As of Friday evening, talks were under way with Anthem Blue Cross so she could be moved to a facility in Sacramento next week.
The family plans to look over the facility before giving approval.
If she had remained at Doctors without insurance, George Morris would have faced some stiff charges. He said one billing for six weeks at the hospital was $818,000. Anthem Blue Cross did not issue a check for that amount, but paid a contract rate of more than $200,000, he said.
Denny Litos, chief executive officer for Doctors, said local hospitals are taking care of these patients for extended periods, including one patient who has been at Doctors for three years.
A hospital room is not an ideal place for these patients, he said. They are not partaking in social activities or rehabilitation services offered at long-term care hospitals.
There is not much relief in sight from the shortage of long-term acute care beds, although the government's three-year moratorium on approving new facilities is scheduled to expire at year's end.
The federal government is concerned about the lack of physician staffing at long-term acute care centers and the increasing costs to Medicare.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.