The story of Hugette Clark, a reclusive copper heiress who died in 2011 at the age of 104 just keeps on getting stranger. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars at her death, she spent the last 20 years of her life as a private pay patient at New York’s Beth Israel Hospital. As the New York Times now reports, she was not in need of hospital treatment when she entered the hospital but was allowed to stay there "as long as the hospital didn’t need her bed". She was billed millions of dollars for her two decade stay at the hospital during which time she also made multi- million dollar gifts of cash and art to the institution as well as a million dollar bequest in her will.
The Times story raises a host of questions about Ms. Clark’s residence at the hospital at the same time she was the owner of huge luxury apartments in New York where she had always lived and which she continued to maintain . Although her physical condition would have permitted her discharge from the hospital at any time, there is a glaring question about whether or not her preference for life in the hospital (which she professed to love) indicates some deep-seated psychiatric conditions for which treatment should have been offered so that she could have felt secure in making the decision to voluntarily return to her home.
It is interesting to note that Ms. Clark was a woman of multiple eccentricities who loved to play with dolls and was the target of a constant effort by hospital personnel to ingratiate themselves with her in order to encourage her to continue to make gifts to the institution.
Her estate now raises the issue as to whether or not Hugette was taken advantage of by the hospital which (see the letter in the Times article) appears to have viewed her as a cash cow and which saw her as a constant source of large cash donations which they apparently did what they could to encourage. It seems that as long as she was willing and able to pay a daily rate for her room which exceeded $1,200 in the 1990s she was a most welcome guest.
The relatives of Ms. Clark (who was childless) have mounted an effort in New York County Surrogate’s Court to recover what they believe to be the excessive amounts of cash which Hugette was enticed to pay and donate to Beth Israel. This case will go to trial in September before Surrogate Anderson. Conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that there would be a settlement before a lengthy show trial would flood the press and the airwaves with the embarrassing "you can’t make this stuff up" details of a healthy woman’s twenty year stay in a hospital.