Opinion: Hochul, meet with the grieving families before you act

The governor has an opportunity to put patient safety above special interests.

The Grieving Families Act would allow families of wrongful death victims to be compensated for emotional suffering.

The Grieving Families Act would allow families of wrongful death victims to be compensated for emotional suffering. Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

The Grieving Families Act is the last bill standing: Of the hundreds that were drafted and passed in Albany this legislative session, it is the only one that has not yet been delivered to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk. The bill would bring New York’s outdated, 19th century law up to date with the rest of the nation by allowing claims for grief and anguish in cases where someone is wrongfully killed.

We have a personal interest in seeing it passed: We are the grieving families. Our loved ones all died due to medical negligence – patient safety errors that could have been corrected with proper deterrents. Although it is too late for some of us to get justice for our families, we hope the governor will sign this bill into law so that other families are not burdened by this injustice as we have been.

Last year, when Hochul vetoed a broader version of the bill, she said she suggested the Legislature (exempt) medical malpractice claims. Fortunately for our families, it is a deal the Legislature refused to take.

In the coming days, Hochul once again will have to make a decision on the Grieving Families Act, which would update New York’s wrongful death law – a shameful, outdated statute from 1847 that said the lives of our loved ones are worth nothing because they were not wealthy. This time, the Legislature has met her on many of her requests: This bill limits who can file a claim to just close family members, and it reduces the statute of limitations in these cases. Those are changes the governor wanted to see.

We know that Hochul has heard from people on both sides on this issue as it has played out in the press and during the legislative process. We know that the governor has met with medical and insurance industry special interest groups. But she hasn’t met with us, the grieving families. We request that before the governor makes a final decision on the Grieving Families Act, she meets with us and hears our stories; stories that demonstrate the necessity of signing this legislation.

We sincerely believe that if the Grieving Families Act had been law when our loved ones went to the hospital, a place where they were supposed to receive care, they would still be alive today. Take the case of Christine Fields, Jose Perez’s healthy 30-year-old partner, who delivered their third child at NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull less than two months ago. She was the second Black woman to die in childbirth at the hospital in as many years; part of a broader epidemic of Black maternal mortality that demands action. But patient safety will improve for all New Yorkers if the governor signs this act. A veto will make New Yorkers more susceptible to the same tragic and preventable fate our loved ones met.

We know that time is short for a decision, and, as such, we hand-delivered our request to meet the governor at her New York City office last week. Unfortunately, we were turned away by security and we have not heard back.

Governor, you have an opportunity to do what is right. As you weigh this important decision, we ask that you do so with our loved ones in mind. Please give us an opportunity to meet with you. It is time.

Mandy Fletcher is the mother of the late Maison Callender. Shawnee Benton Gibson is the mother of the late Shamony Gibson and co-founder of the ARIAH Foundation. Bruce McIntyre was the partner of the late Amber Rose Isaac and is the founder of saveArose Foundation. Jose Perez was the partner of the late Christine Fields.

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