Can my brother deny me information about mom's health condition?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 23, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Can my brother who has POA for health care for my mother (who has dementia)deny me information about her health condition? She was recently hospitalized, and then placed in a nursing care facility. When I asked my brother for information about her health, he told me to send him or his lawyer something in writing. When I ask for information at the nursing facility I am told by the nurse that my brother requested that they not share information with me. The social worker at this facility told me that the HIPPA laws forbid them from sharing health information, and I must contact her POA. Do I have to hire a lawyer to find out how my mother is? She is 91 years old and may not have much time left. I live in WA state, Mom and brother are in IL. My father (deceased) would be so furious and hurt if he knew this was going on. Please advise. Thank you

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a 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.

Your problem is not so much a legal one as a human one, so hiring a lawyer might not be your first or best route.

The first thing that dawns is the reality that an agent named in a power of attorney only has the ability to make healthcare decisions based on the principal's best interest. So it is unclear why your brother is acting to bar you from an update on your mother's condition"”and why he is bringing the complication of a lawyer in to boot. If you can get an answer to that, you may actually get some solution from that alone. But there's also a likelihood that the current problem stems from some longstanding family pattern of communication.

Your situation may also be made a bit more difficult because it seems you have not yet found a helpful eye or ear over at the nursing home. Many facilities, mostly for matters of convenience, will insist on communicating with one family member"”often the person named as agent in a power of attorney. And while HIPAA may bar divulging the specific of medical files, it would not bar facility staffers from telling you want you want to hear: a general update on your mother's condition, well-being and quality of life.

You may need to be persistent and creative to get the information you need, but there may be a few sources that can help.

First, consider consulting the facility's ombudsman for help with a solution. Every nursing facility has an ombudsman, a trained objective individual, assigned to it to help solve problems with its residents and family members. You should be able to find the ombudsman for your mother's nursing home through the Illinois Department on Aging at He or she should be able to work with you in finding a way to keep you posted on your mother's condition across the miles"”perhaps through regular email or telephone updates by a designated CNA or other individual.

A workier solution may be to request a meeting with the nursing facility executive director or director of nursing. Such a meeting is likely to be more productive if you can meet in person with them and describe your problem simply and civilly. It is usually in a resident's best interests to have interested, supportive family members in life, so emphasizing that may help prompt them to help find a way to keep you in the information loop.

Finally, consider enlisting the help of another family member or friend in Illinois who may be regularly visiting your mother and who would be willing to give you regular updates across the miles.