Patient, Hospital in Dispute





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In a battle pitting patient against hospital, a Berkeley man diagnosed with HIV will face his first criminal trial tomorrow for violating some of the seven restraining orders filed against him by Alta Bates Medical Center.

Jonathan Romano faces one misdemeanor charge in Oakland Superior Court on the grounds that he violated restraining orders by distributing his written complaints outside Alta Bates. In December, he faces several more similar charges in Berkeley's court.

Romano has been HIV-positive since 1981 and says he is one of the few remaining since his contraction of the virus - only 1 to 2 percent of people infected since then are still alive today. This is one of the biggest reasons for his health apprehensions, he said.

His fight against Alta Bates began in April when he was offered two clinical trials at the East Bay AIDS Center, which he was told would boost his T-cells. Two weeks after signing the consent forms, he returned to the hospital and was informed that he was too "healthy" for the trial and could not take the medication, he said.

"I was (originally) told that for the first time in 19 years I had the chance of being (helped)," Romano said. "I came back and it wasn't true because my T-cell count was too high. So why did they offer it to me? Why tell a person this medication will be their best chance and not really mean it?"

No representative from Alta Bates Medical Center could be reached for comment.

Romano said he was informed that there were three other patients who received similar news and said it was unfair, so he filed a formal complaint with the Institutional Review Board of Alta Bates and the Food and Drug Administration. He decided also to deliver a copy of the complaint to the Customer Service Department at Alta Bates, and while there he complained to several employees about his situation and the treatment he had received.

Three of those employees filed restraining orders against him because they said they felt a threat of violence.

According to Romano, however, he did not say anything that would qualify as a threat of violence. He said the one comment that could have been seen as a threat was directed toward his doctor when he told her, "I'm going to get even with you."

Romano said he had asked her earlier why he was rejected from the clinical trial but she could not give him the information because she did not have the charts. Romano asserted that by "getting even" he was referring to the complaint he filed.

Instead of tenofovir, one of the drugs he would get through the clinical trial, Romano said he was offered videx. In 1995, a doctor put him on thalidomide for six months to cure an ulcer that Romano said he felt had gone away in only four days, he said. But the protocol only called for a one-month use and consequently he now has irreversible neuropathy, Romano said.

"Right now I control the pain by swimming about six times a week - it is emotionally fulfilling," he said. "I feel like I have already been through so much because of neuropathy, since it prevents me from taking many other drugs. How can doctors even consider putting me on medication that will spread the problem?"

According to a petition filed by Alta Bates for prohibiting violence, when the review board took too long to reply to his complaint, Romano went in to find out what was wrong. When he was told no action would be taken by the board, he left but continued to make phone calls asking what higher state agency he could complain to.

Three employees at the review board said they were "afraid" that he could become a threat because of his "violent past," and thus filed a fourth, fifth and sixth restraining order.

A seventh restraining order was filed to bar him from every location nearby, Romano said, but it was ruled that he can still use the emergency rooms of both Alta Bates and Summit Health, the owner of Alta Bates.

He has been imprisoned twice, once on his birthday, for breaking the restraining orders and posting his complaints on the windshields of cars outside of Alta Bates. Tomorrow will be Romano's first criminal trial.

"They have alleged that he has violated the restraining orders and that's the basis for the case right now," said Kellin Cooper, his attorney. "But he just wants the very best treatment possible for being an AIDS patient. He thinks they're the best hospital around and wants to be treated by them."

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