Emergency at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital Takes a Back Seat

This Week’s Top Scrooge – June 15, 2007  


No one should be ignored in a hospital emergency room lobby.

But right here in America, in Los Angeles, California, inside the Martin Luther King-Harbor Hospital emergency room lobby, on May 9, 2007, someone was ignored and died as a result.

Edith Isabel Rodriguez, 43, died in the King-Harbor emergency room after writhing in pain on the floor for 45 minutes. The world knows about it because the incident was captured on security cameras and two witnesses called 911 requesting help and they are rebuffed.

As the Los Angeles Times is reporting, the event might have gone down as the death of a “quasi-transient” woman with a history of abusing drugs. That’s how the death of Rodriguez was initially reported to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

Five weeks later, that’s no longer the case. The release of the 911 calls and dogged media reporting now have the L.A. county Sheriff’s Department, health officials and the Board of Supervisors all scrambling to determine who was to blame and how to prevent another tragedy.

The horror of someone dying while being ignored in the emergency room lobby has set off a tidal wave of response and become a cause celebre.

The Times is reporting today that the case has “crystallized people’s fears that even in their most desperate moments, the emergency system won’t take them seriously. The videotape itself has not even been made public; mere descriptions of its content by those who have seen it have evoked outrage.”

“Here’s a person crying for help. Will no one help?” said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who discussed the case on CNN this week. “What kind of a society are we when we can’t even render aid to someone who’s in their own blood and vomit on the floor and you’re mopping around them? It’s a kind of morality tale of a society gone cold.”

Said Marcela Sanchez, Rodriguez’s sister: “It could be you. It could be your mom, your baby, your sister…. Unfortunately, it was my sister.”

More from the Los Angeles Times:

Nearly every major broadcast network has devoted segments to what happened to the 43-year-old woman. The death has even become fodder in the emerging debate over the U.S. healthcare system: Filmmaker Michael Moore, whose new documentary, “SiCKO,” chronicles the system’s problems, has added a photo of Rodriguez to his website with the phrase “Died trying.”

As new details have emerged, public officials have hastened to show their concern. The Sheriff’s Department said Thursday that it will review for a second time the way dispatchers handled the 911 calls from Rodriguez’s boyfriend and a female bystander. One dispatcher curtly told the bystander that the situation was not an emergency; the other said there was nothing she could do because Rodriguez was already in a hospital. Previously, the department had provided written “counseling” to the dispatcher who was curt.

The department is also examining how it handles 911 calls from hospitals, said Capt. Steven M. Roller of the sheriff’s Century Station. There is no current policy, but Roller said paramedics would only take patients to the nearest hospital, which would be the one where they were.

Meanwhile, county health officials are finalizing their response, due today, to a federal report citing serious deficiencies in the way Rodriguez was treated. And they are reviewing the conduct of all emergency room workers, including contract physicians, who evaluated Rodriguez over the three days before she died but each time found nothing seriously wrong.

She died of a perforated bowel, which probably developed in the last 24 hours of her life, according to a coroner’s report…

…But the Rodriguez case has garnered more attention than any of the others, in part because of the video showing her extended time on the floor and a janitor cleaning around her. It is not the usual “he said, she said” account. The county has repeatedly refused to release the tape, however, citing the ongoing sheriff’s investigation.

“If there wasn’t a videotape, we wouldn’t be discussing it. Period. The end,” said Miguel Santana, chief of staff to Supervisor Gloria Molina..

Fortunately, we are discussing it. We will be hearing about this one for a long time…as we should until the situation at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor is appropriately addressed.

No one should be ignored in the lobby of a hospital emergency room…

Even if Rodriquez was labeled a troublesome patient with alleged drug use. Even if hospital officials initially said she was high on cocaine or methamphetamine at the time of her death, according to the documents. However, results of toxicology testing by the coroner showed that Rodriguez did not have cocaine in her system.

Even if she tested positive for methamphetamine (the level was not “life-threatening”).

No one should be ignored like this. Sadly, Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital is This Week’s Top Scrooge.

Maybe Rodriguez’ death serves as a wake-up call to the hospital’s leaders and staff.

I am reminded of these Bible verses:

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ — Matthew 25:42-45

Edith Isabel Rodriguez, your death may have been the result of ignorance, but it may serve as the death of ignorance as well…at least, God willing, for some.


For Los Angeles Times articles on King-Harbor, audio recordings of the 911 calls and Rodriguez’s autopsy report, go to http://www.latimes.com/kingharbor.


Past Scrooges:

At Galesburg High, kids are kids and school officials are out of control

Can Hugo Chavez go down on YouTube, blogs?

Sex, drugs and the ol’ ‘You’re going to do it anyway’ excuse

A nation traumatized by Paris Hilton

Fleeing to the satellite waves, radio jocks Opie and Anthony reach even lower

Parents’ child abuse includes dog cage, shock collar

Alec Baldwin tries cleaning pigsty with “Apology Tour 2007”

This week: no point in poking fun at boneheads and blunders

Knuckle-headed Dom Imus and Nebraska woman tie for top dishoner

Woman’s home up for grabs as part of online hoax


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6 thoughts on “Emergency at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital Takes a Back Seat

  1. This is a letter I wrote to the LA times Editoral and the Dispatch about Ms. Rodriuguz.

    Sherriff’s Dept Dispatchers.

    Aren’t your 911 dispatchers EMT’s??? King Hospital should be closed down. The Nurse in triage should be arrested for “failure to Act while on duty” a legal law for healthcare providers. As an EMT myself, I probably would not had taken that call seriously myself, however I would of sent a unit anyway!! Hospitals are over staffed! LA looks worse and worse every year. God bless the family and Ms. Rodriguz. She was at the Hospital 3 days in a row asking for help!!! She didn’t have to die!! Policy should always always send the Paramedics! That lady did not have to die because of your dispatch policy. J.David Stevens Emt Indianapolis Indiana.

  2. As a 2cd year medical student, even I know that this hospital grossly violated their “Duty to Render Care” under the laws of our Constitution AND blatantly ignored the AMA Principles of Medical Ethics, which all of us agree to observe and abide by as health care professionals of our society. Its very difficult to accept this event as something that can take place in our country. Not only is this an act of negligence on behalf of the hospital, it represents negligence so grave that it amounts to recklessness, which justifies the use of criminal law against these so-called health-care providers. In my eyes, not only have they violated their Hippocratical Oath, but these people have also disgraced the medical community and compromised the integrity of our profession. Please do not judge us all by the actions of these few; their heartlessness represents that of which we use an example of what NOT to become. My condolences to the Rodriguez family and all the other victims of this hospital’s wrongdoings.

  3. if she was in such critical condition how did she manage to make the 130 mile trip from her home in Tehachapi to MLK in Compton, THREE times, and I gotta tell ya, a 45 minute wait in an ER is nothing, when I went to the ER with severe abdominal pain, and intense vomiting of what looked like radiator fluid, I had to wait 8 hours, and then admitting took several hours, and then I laid on a gurney in a hallway for about a day, when I finally got the emergency gallbladder surgery, it was nearly 48 hours later, they SHOULD shut down MLK, then all the gunshot and stabbing victims will just have to die in the street.

  4. i really think this option was unfair..they should of paid attenition to the woman who was crying out for help..she was in pain and for the people just to ignore her ..that wasnt a fair reason …i really think they should of suied the hospitol.really this hospitol is a bad place to get help in…my grandfather passed away in one of there rooms ..just because the lack of help he needed…

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