Suffering from multiple disabilities, Kylie Murray told University Health Services when she came to Harvard as a graduate student in 2010 that she needed a monthly injection to manage her debilitating pain and blood pressure drops. As Murray’s attorney tells the story now, UHS employees told her that they were unable to give her the medication, but that she could easily inject herself.
Murray tried, and days later, she collapsed in the Harvard Square T station, suffering from an adverse reaction to improper administration of the drug. She was hospitalized for five weeks. Then she sued Harvard.
Murray’s suit, which saw its latest day in court on Friday, charges the President and Fellows of Harvard College with discrimination, negligence, and fraud.
A UHS spokesperson declined to comment since the investigation is ongoing, and the three lawyers from the Boston firm Diedrich & Donohue who, according to court records, are defending Harvard did not respond to requests for comment.
Murray came to Harvard from Oxford for a year-long spot in the Knox Fellowship graduate program. Suffering from long-term conditions that cause joint dislocation, temporary paralysis of one side of the body, and muscle pain, according to Murray’s court filing, she told Harvard that she would need medical assistance and housing without stairs.
“Under the antidiscrimination laws, when a student applies for reasonable accommodations, institutions like Harvard have an obligation to take all steps necessary in order to enable that student to fulfill their studies,” said David P. Angueira, Murray’s attorney.
But although she advised Harvard of her medical requirements prior to her arrival, Murray claims that she was housed in a building with stairs and that UHS told her that her necessary monthly injection of Octreotide, a drug which had been successfully handling her symptoms, was not covered by her health plan.
At the recommendation of UHS employees, according to her lawsuit, Murray then attempted to self-administer the injection, with her cardiologist in the United Kingdom guiding her by Skype.
Since she is left-handed, the suit said, she had difficulty injecting herself on her left side—a problem exacerbated by her hand tremors, which the suit said were also known to UHS personnel.
A few days after the difficult injection, the court filing said, Murray collapsed at the T station. She was taken to Mt. Auburn Hospital and then Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was treated for a drastic drop in her blood pressure, a known side effect of an improper administration of Octreotide, according to Murray’s suit. After several more collapses over the following days, she was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital again for a total of five weeks, then transferred to a hospital in her hometown of Bristol in the United Kingdom. A year later, in Oct. 2011, she filed suit against Harvard.
In the court filing, Murray’s lawyer said that Octreotide should have been covered under a UHS insurance policy guaranteeing coverage of “medically necessary injections.” The policy took effect in August 2010, according to the lawsuit, but Murray was told that it was new in October, after she had already been hospitalized.
“[UHS] misrepresented whether or not they could assist her,” Angueira said, “They later on told her that they had changed the policy, and that was false.”
Her lawsuit accused Harvard of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, misrepresenting insurance policies, and deceiving her about the care to which she was entitled.
“This case represents a complete institutional failure which I believe occurred as a result of lack of proper training and a lack of communication between the Harvard employees,” Angueira said. “The case envelops the totality of the failure of Harvard as an institution in making sure that this outstanding young lady was given the resources she needed to pursue her career.”
At the hearing last week in United States District Court, a judge ruled that Murray’s attorney and Harvard each have until Sept. 2013 to gather evidence for a trial, a period that Angueira said was unusually long due to the difficulty of interviewing witnesses in the United Kingdom.