RACINE - Rachael Lowe sat in a Racine County courtroom on Wednesday morning, her fate, and that of her unborn child, in the hands of a judge.
Lowe, 20, sat beside her 21-year-old husband, Michael, waiting to see whether she would be released from confinement at St. Luke's Hospital in Racine. She has been there since April 29 because she became addicted to OxyContin while pregnant.
There was no freedom for her Wednesday. Judge Charles Constantine said he didn't have enough information to make a decision. He roundly criticized county officials and some of the people in court for failing to find information and for not following through on caring for the fetus, which, he said, is the whole point of the court proceedings.
"It's frustrating," he said.
Outside of court, Michael Lowe also expressed his frustration. His wife wanted help, but instead has been pulled away from her family, and is allowed only limited contact with the people who support her.
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He's also concerned about her medical care. Although she's been seen by a psychiatrist and is being treated for her addiction, his wife has not seen an
obstetrician, Lowe said.
After she admitted to him that she was addicted, Lowe said outside court, they decided she should seek professional help. They went to Waukesha Memorial Hospital, but instead of getting counseling, she was confined in St. Luke's for drug addiction treatment.
What is happening to Lowe is standard under Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law, intended to protect fetuses whose mothers expose them to alcohol or other drugs.
Once Waukesha County authorities determined Lowe was a Racine County resident, they contacted county social workers, who subsequently asked the District Attorney's office to petition the court for Lowe's confinement, said District Attorney Mike Nieskes.
In court on Wednesday, Constantine said neither county social workers nor the guardian appointed to act for Lowe's fetus had produced information about the health of the child or Rachael Lowe's progress in the treatment program at St. Luke's.
The original confinement was appropriate, Constantine said.
"I am just astounded that after 10 days I don't have that information," he said.
Constantine said he was disappointed in the county's Human Services Department for not following through with prenatal care while Lowe was confined. Appearing on a video hookup, Gerald Kirkeeng of the Human Services Department said he was under the impression prenatal care would be handled by St. Luke's.
When asked to comment on the county's actions, Geoff Greiveldinger, chief of staff to Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds, said he was not familiar with the case but
couldn't comment in any case because of confidentiality rules. Generally, he said, "the whole basis is taking care of the fetus, so obviously, other kinds of associated care, if they're needed they'll be provided."
Nothing prevented St. Luke's from taking Lowe to an obstetrical appointment, said Assistant District Attorney Maureen
"Well put," said Constantine. "Why wasn't that done in the last 11 or 12 days?"
A spokeswoman for All Saints, contacted by The Journal Times after the hearing, said the organization couldn't comment on a specific case because of privacy laws. "We do monitor patients in our care on a regular basis and then make the necessary referrals that need to be made," she said.
Constantine settled the matter in court. He ordered an examination for Lowe and said the county should pay if no one else will.
Michael Lowe said in court that his wife should be released, that he had made arrangements for her admission to an intensive outpatient treatment program as well as for an obstetrical exam. Attorney Mark Lukoff, appointed guardian ad litem for the child, argued that Lowe should remain in the hospital.
While under treatment there, she snorted an OxyContin tablet given as part of her treatment regimen. "To me, that's overriding," he said. He asked: How could she be trusted to stay away from drugs if released?
Constantine said that incident also raised a question in his mind.
But he likewise criticized Lukoff for not providing information about the case. Lukoff said Lowe's medical records were sealed to him.
Constantine asked Rachael Lowe whether she would sign a release to permit examination of her records, and she softly answered yes.
"She says she'll execute a release. Why hasn't anybody asked her to do it?" Constantine said.
He said he wanted medical records and doctors available for the next hearing on May 18.
So, Michael Lowe said, his wife has to suffer because other people didn't do their jobs in assembling the necessary information?
"Don't get me started," Constantine said. "You know why she's suffering? Because she's 29 weeks pregnant and the child is in the uterus with a drug cocktail.
"You wouldn't be here unless your wife didn't have a substance abuse problem."
But, he added more quietly, she may have her day in court, and it is unfair in a way that she should remain confined, but life isn't fair. Constantine appointed an attorney for Rachael Lowe.
After the hearing, Michael Lowe said that although she sought help voluntarily, his wife is being punished. Were he to do it over again, he would suggest his wife approach her doctor privately about her addiction, he said.
The treatment of his wife sends the wrong message to other pregnant women who may have the same problem and want to seek professional help, he said.
"Why detain her and hold her locked up in a psychiatric ward for wanting to better herself? I don't understand that," Lowe said.