Huguette Clark's 20-year hospital stay sparks lawsuit

Distant relatives claim the hospital took advantage of the reclusive heiress, who died in 2011 at 104 with a $300 million estate.

By Aimee Picchi May 30, 2013 2:05PM

Aug. 11, 1930 file photo showing Mrs. Huguette Clark Gower, heiress to a Montana copper fortune (© File/AP Photo)A recluse, her 20-year hospital stay and distant relatives vying for a chunk of the now-deceased heiress's $300 million estate have combined to spark a lawsuit alleging that a major New York City medical facility pressed her into donating a large piece of her fortune to it. 

That lawsuit is the latest sad twist in the story of Huguette Clark, who arrived at Beth Israel Medical Center in 1991 and never left, even though her relatives claim she didn't need constant medical care, according to a report in The New York Times. 

The case also highlights the conflicts of interest that can arise at nonprofit hospitals, which have an obligation to care for patients and whose fundraising staffers are always on the lookout for donations. 

In Clark's case, her stay apparently led to several conflicts, including how her $300 million estate intersected with the hospital's doubts over whether she should even be allowed to remain there for two decades. During her tenure, Clark ended up giving Beth Israel at least $4 million in donations and a $1 million bequest in her contested will.

Clark died in 2011 at age 104. The relatives fighting the hospital are descendants from her father's first marriage. Clark's father was the copper baron William Andrews Clark, while her mother was his younger second wife. 

Here are five notable points culled from the lawsuit:

Clark donated a Manet to the hospital: The heiress gave Beth Israel "Peonies in a Bottle" by the iconic impressionist painter. But when it sold for less than expected at a Sotheby's (BID) auction, Beth Israel's chief executive joked in an email that she "didn't take the bait and offer a half dozen more." Still, the hospital pocketed $3.15 million from the gift. 

She paid $1,200 per day: By 1998, Clark was paying about that amount, or $438,000 per year. Multiply that times 20 years, and she may have paid $8.8 million for her hospital room. 

The hospital had questions about evicting her: Several years after she was admitted, one internal email raised the question of whether Clark should even be allowed to remain. "Does Legal know about Miss Clark’s situation?" the email asked. "If we were forced to 'evict' her, we'd certainly have no hope of any support." It's not clear whether the legal department ever responded. 

Clark had a doll obsession: She had no children and liked to give photographic tours of her dollhouses, which focused on Japanese themes. "She places dolls in the house and moves them through activities (drinking tea, walking in the garden, in conversation), taking a photo of each activity so that they tell a story," a development staff member wrote in a memo. 

She was fiscally conservative: Clark appeared to keep tight control of her money and was fiscally conservative. A hospital development officer noted that a trust left by her mother was invested in municipal bonds.

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 

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May 30, 2013 3:44PM

Interesting how the family believed she didn't need constant medical care. yet in those twenty years not one of them managed to get her out of there and take her in themselves.


If her estate is worth $300 million, why is anybody concerned about her spending $8 million over 20 years in a hospital?  These folks who are fighting over her estate are just a bunch of vultures that won't be satisfied no matter what they get.
May 30, 2013 3:44PM
It is sickening how money can turn friends and relatives into selfish, greedy monsters.
May 30, 2013 3:47PM
Where were all of these family members prior to her passing? And why didn't they help to take care of her &/or oversee her care & financials prior to her death? Instead, if you know the rest of the story, it was left up to her shady lawyers & accountants. The comment made by the chief executive of Beth Israel was pretty crass & unprofessional however family coming out of the woodwork just because a dime may be available to them & now suing over it is ridiculous (besides the fact that the only people getting any $$$ out of all of this will be all of the lawyers involved).
There's just a million dollars in dispute? Out of 300 million? What a petty bunch of 'distant relatives'. I bet the hospital staff was closer to her then any of those slags.
May 30, 2013 3:46PM
Where were the "distant relatives" during the time she was in the hospital. It's amazing the people that come out of the woodwork.
May 30, 2013 3:52PM
It doesn't matter how much the hospital got. She wanted to be a recluse. If I had a family of vultures like this I would seclude myself too. None of them worried about her until she was dead. Now they all want a share of her fortune plus anything she spent over the years. They did good to question the motives of the attorney and executor. However, she knew the rates for the private hospital when she made arrangements to live there. She was in control of her money until the last year of her life.
May 30, 2013 3:56PM
Too bad those fighting for her money didn't bother to take care of her while she was alive.
May 30, 2013 2:43PM
Yes, the hospital's interest in keeping her alive for a long time at $1,200. a day. I recommend a kick-back to the families...the hospital did more than take some generous donations.
May 30, 2013 3:52PM
I think it was her money and she could spend it as she pleases. Just because she was allowed to stay in the hospital was better that a nursing home. Hurray for her she lived to 104 maybe because of her being taking care by private nurse and have adoctor see her anytime she wanted one !!!!! 
May 30, 2013 3:57PM

Why can't people just leave this woman alone? She loved dolls, so what happens? The media claims she has a doll "obcession which is, in today's world, just one sentence away from being certifiably "crazy".


Then there is the nonsense about how, a woman who is in her 90s in 1998, decides that instead of being mistreated in a old person's home she elects to stay in a hospital. Considering the state of retirement homes in the United States, Ms. Clark's decision was nothing less than brilliant.


As far as having family that behaved as family in name only now fighting over a rich family member's estate . . . how is this news?


The other stuff with her attorney and accountant, the courts will figure that out.

May 30, 2013 3:50PM
And I can't even get admitted to the hospital when I severely injured my hip and then my leg when nobody could figure out what the actual damage was.  Nobody gets to stay in a hospital for 20 years unless they have ulterior motives.  They move you to a nursing facility aster so many days.  But I also don't think the greedy relatives from her father's first marriage should get anything.  They let her stay in the hospital for 20 years without checking on her welfare and taking the responsibility themselves of taking care of her, but man are they their the second they might get her fortune.  Split it between he states for a spay and neutering program of abandoned, abused and feral cats.  That ought to get the greedy peoples panties in a twist!
May 30, 2013 3:48PM
Just proves money is not the answer to everything .......I feel very bad for her for never having a life ...but then again she lived the life she wanted far as her not being ill ....anyone spending that many years in a hospital must have some mental sickness
May 30, 2013 3:54PM
Amazing how a family that couldn't take the time to help her while she was alive (and I presume that is because she kept a tight hold on her money) and now they are going after the hospital because they did take care of her. The old gal was willing to pay for what she wanted and she got it from the hospital.  The courts should throw the whole family out. Greedy bunch of trash that wants something for nothing.  The hospital at least provided a service.
May 30, 2013 3:53PM
Where was that distant family's interest in her when she was alive, I wonder???
May 30, 2013 3:41PM
May 30, 2013 3:58PM
Sounds similar to the non-profit hospital portrayed on NBC morning news today, The adminstrator is paid 13 million a year and the 12 board members 1 million each. YOUR donations are welcome!!!!!
May 30, 2013 3:48PM
just when it looked like this sad tale of  miss clark and the battle for her fortune had ended . now comes a new twist the hospital being looked at for keeping her alive just so she would keep giving to about one crazy tale of clarks final years on this planet. though one can also look at the relatives making the claim against the hospital as also just wanting more of her fortune.
May 30, 2013 3:56PM
Where was the family during this 20 yr period!! Why did not one of them take her out of there if she didn't need to be there. I also do not think it was right of the hospital to take advantage either!! Really sad if ask me!
May 30, 2013 3:55PM
Her family was kept away for years by her attorney and accountant who are under indictment.
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