NORTH ADAMS - A Darien, Conn., family who lost a 21-year-old son to suicide in 2009 after he'd escaped medical custody settled a suit against County Ambulance this week to the satisfaction of both sides. Peter Hillman, father of the late Gregory Hillman, had "high compliments" for the ambulance service during an interview with the Transcript on Wednesday.
He said terms of the settlement include fortified transport protocol and precautionary measures to help ensure "another Gregory won't fall through the cracks at a time of emergency."
Greater staff and driver education with regard to particular types of patients, more thorough patient restraint training and enhanced communication between ambulance and hospital personnel are some of the measures taken.
"We really are very pleased and it makes us feel that all of our efforts have gone towards a good purpose," Hillman said. "We're very confident patient deliveries of any kind will be done in a highly professional way under the new system, and local families should have every confidence in the care in which their loved ones are being entrusted."
The result, "very much honored Gregory's memory," Hillman added.
On July 8, 2009, Gregory Hillman's body was found in the Hoosic River in North Adams. Nine days prior, he'd fled the campus of North Adams Regional Hospital (NARH) while being transported from Berkshire Medical Center (BMC) by County Ambulance, never making it inside NARH doors.
BMC had deemed Hillman a threat to himself, but hadn't room for him. Hillman had earlier fled Monterey's Gould Farm, where he was being treated for bipolar disorder and depression. Hillman was therefore also considered a risk of flight.
Peter Hillman said this message was not conveyed by the medical professionals charged with the care of his son that day. He said "two state agencies and state troopers" all determined that "everybody who had a ball to carry dropped it."
But he praised the ambulance service Wednesday for meeting with him and his wife, Lisa, and making what he hopes are "constructive, lasting improvements."
Further settlement terms are confidential, according to a release from the family's Boston attorney, Elizabeth N. Mulvey.
"Gregory's death was a tragedy, and we share in the family's sorrow," County Ambulance owner Brian Andrews said in the release. "This incident demonstrated areas where we could enhance our patient care beyond the statemandated requirements. We and our patients also benefit from the Hillmans' input."
The Hillmans' case against more than five individual health care providers at BMC continues this fall in federal court in Springfield.
In January, 2012, the hospital itself settled with the family for $20,000 in federal court. The family donated the money to Gould Farm.
Hillman criticized the hospital and its representatives' conduct Wednesday. He said their method consists of "scorchedearth litigation against us" and that "their defense is anybody but BMC people are to blame."
Michael Leary, director of media relations at BMC, declined to comment Wednesday.
Hillman said his family has been categorically denied rights to view the results of the hospital's internal vetting following his son's death, despite requests.
He added the family seeks to collaborate with the hospital similarly as was done with County Ambulance to determine corrective actions, and that additional monetary compensation is sought.
"The opportunity is still there for BMC," Hillman said. " ... It's time for them to step up."