Can I legally force my dad to go to the ER?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 12, 2016
Viola's girl asked...

My "dad" is getting more and more forgetful. He is delusional at times, and doesn't remember if he took his medications (even though I have a pill sorter for him). His balance is getting worse, and yesterday he fell. He broke his elbow and all they did was semi-immobilize it and send him home with instructions for us to call the orthopedist on Monday. He lives alone and I cannot be there all day every day. I went in at noon today and it's out of the sling and he's using it freely. He says there is no pain and its a minor injury. I looked at his hand at the end of the wrapping and it's swollen twice its size with a big lump on it. He insists its fine and we got into a big argument about it and I lost my temper. I am his DPOA but not his biological daughter, and I don't know how much I can MAKE him do, despite his dementia. He hasn't had a formal diagnosis, it seems like it takes weeks to get anything done. Should I call an ambulance or just wait it out until Monday. Can I legally make him go to the ER even though he refuses? I don't know what to do.


Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Depending on a few more facts, your situation may have either a legal or a practical solution"”maybe both.

Your first order of business may be to find out whether the power of attorney is in effect. Take a hard look at the wording on the power of attorney appointing you as agent"”particularly where it mentions when and how the document takes effect.

The most common types of DPA for healthcare specify that the agent is empowered only if the person for whom the document was made"”the principal"”is considered to be incapable of making his or her own decisions. Most also specify a particular way that mental capacity must be determined"”usually by a doctor, or sometimes two of them, setting it out in writing.

If you are concerned that your dad's mental capacities have slipped to the point where he can no longer make cogent decisions for himself, then it is time to get the medical declaration you may need to get the POA to take effect. Once that happens, you will be responsible for making decisions for your dad that are "in his best interest ”and those decisions might clash with his. So you may need to steel yourself for a bit of battle of wills.

One thing that may help with this is to involve another person"”a visiting nurse, a home health aide, a social worker, a daycare worker, even a savvy and caring family friend"”who might be willing to convince your dad about the care he needs. An outsider can also be helpful if your dad's condition doesn't yet require that the POA take effect, but he seems to be ignoring the need for more care.

Contact the local Area Agency on Agency by searching www.n4a.org. Explain your need to get "another pair of eyes" on your dad, which might help him help himself to live more safely. A representative there should be able to put you in touch with the best resources available in your area.