Quadriplegic woman taken to hospital after losing care due to Michigan’s auto no-fault law

Kelley Miller, a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic, lost her the 24/7 care she needs to survive as a quadriplegic paralyzed from the shoulders down. Miller’s insurance company, Auto-Owners, has cut reimbursements to the agency that takes care of her by nearly half.

Kelley Miller lies in a stretcher as a nurse watches a first responder takes her vitals

RN Stacy Krause watches first responder take vitals from Kelley Miller.

The tragic consequences of Michigan’s new auto no-fault law continue to mount. 

Republican leaders in the state Legislature promised to fix known problems with the law after it was passed. But they haven’t.

More than 18,000 catastrophically injured Michiganders are losing necessary medical care as a result.

On Sunday, Kelley Miller, a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic, lost her the 24/7 care she needs to survive as a quadriplegic paralyzed from the shoulders down. Paramedics removed Miller from her home of 10 years to take her to Sparrow Hospital 

Shara Curry is the owner of RN Plus Staffing and also one of the nurses who takes care of Miller. Tears suddenly well up in her eyes as she talks to the 911 operator.  She’s been one of Miller’s nurses for the past decade, ever since the car accident that nearly claimed her client’s life. This isn’t just a client, she’s a friend.

“I’m calling to report that Kelley Miller, she lives in Milliken — she’s a vent dependent quadriplegic. She is without care,” Curry tells the operator.

Miller’s insurance company, Auto-Owners, has cut reimbursements to Curry’s agency by nearly half. Michigan’s new no-fault law says it can do that. Many Insurance companies across the state are doing the same thing to other survivors’ agencies. Like them, Curry can no longer afford to pay her staff, let alone herself.  And there’s no place to send her client except the hospital.  

Miller lies quietly on the bed as another nurse from the agency puts her makeup on for her. For 10 years, she’s lived in this rural home north of Lansing with her husband. Played word games and board games with her grandchildren. Bossed her family around. Filled the house with knick knacks from garage sales and flea markets. Outside, she has chickens, some cows. It was a good life, she says.    

“My granddaughter’s birthday party was today at Skateland, something I looked forward to. But, I won’t be there,” she says.

It’s likely Miller will never come home from the hospital. Other agencies are running out of money and closing, too. The hospital will need to find a nursing facility that will agree to take her. Many are severely understaffed.  

“I can’t even imagine what it would be like, there’s no quality of life, you’re just done.  I would be anyway. I wouldn’t want to live anymore,” Miller says.

Shara Curry poses for a portrait while wearing a wask.
RN Shara Curry watches as paramedics prepare to take her client to the hospital

Miller would die in minutes if her ventilator didn’t work. If she did move to a nursing home, Shara Curry says her prospects there are grim too. The tubing connecting her to her ventilator comes loose on a regular basis.

“We save her life at least twice a month. In a nursing home, she can’t move, she can’t press a call light.  How would she let them know that she was in trouble?” Curry says.

In a short while, first responders from the local fire department arrive, then the paramedics from the ambulance service.  

Suddenly, eight people are here. It’s not easy to safely move someone with such a severe spinal cord injury. Everything happens really fast after that.  

They get the ventilator and the stretcher ready.

And 1-2-3 heave her into it.  There’s one scary moment when it seems like the ventilator tubing has come off.

Her husband, Bud, reaches out to touch her forehead as he says goodbye.

Then she’s out of the house, loaded into the ambulance, and she’s gone.

Bud Miller is distraught. He says it’s one of the worst days since the accident itself.  He knows the hospital is not the safest place for Kelley. But he’s out of options.

“If she was to get COVID she’ll never pull through it, and I think that’s honestly what Auto-Owners wants, 45 years, and it’s just killing us, how the laws can just do what they want to destroy people?”

In a few minutes, he drives away to catch up with the ambulance, so he can be at the hospital when his wife goes into the ER. 

Kelley Miller is surrounded by parademics and first responders transporting her to an ambulance.
Paramedics and first responders lift Kelley Miller into an ambulance for transfer to Sparrow Hospital.

Kathleen Lopilato is an attorney with Auto-Owners insurance.  She says the company continued paying Kelley Miller’s coverage at old rates months so Miller could find another home care agency to take care of her. But the Millers could not find one with so many agencies shutting down. And Lopilato says the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association, which controls payments for high needs cases like Miller’s, wouldn’t approve higher rates or another extension. 

Meanwhile the Claims Association has a surplus, made even larger recently because it is no longer paying for care for people like Kelley Miller. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has asked the Claims Association to send some of that surplus in a one-time payment to current car owners this spring. Nurse Shara Curry calls it blood money, to deflect attention from the cruelty of the no-fault law, and obscure the fact that Michigan is still in the top three most costly in the nation for auto insurance.

Many advocates for auto accident survivors are busy this week calling and emailing their state legislators. They’re urging them to co-sponsor a new bill to increase rates for care providers for car crash survivors. The bill is about to be introduced in the House by Republican State Rep. Phil Green. Green hopes if there are enough co-sponsors — especially Republican co-signers — his party’s leaders will agree to schedule a hearing on the legislation.

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Author

  • Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.