Death of Edith Rodriguez
Edith Isabel Rodriguez (February 1, 1964 – May 9, 2007) was a woman who died of gastrointestinal perforation at the Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital (King-Harbor) in unincorporated Los Angeles County, California, United States, after being refused treatment by hospital staff. Staff believed that her pain was due to a gallstone attack and thus did not believe she required urgent medical care. Rodriguez's situation became a cause célèbre about the failures and bureaucratic indifference of both King-Harbor as well as political and health leaders in the Los Angeles area, creating or reinforcing fears that the health care system will not take care of people in a time of dire need. The Rodriguez case resulted in press coverage on national news networks such as CNN and CBS News.
Incident at the hospital
On May 9, 2007, Rodriguez is reported to have lain on the floor of the hospital's emergency department waiting room for 45 minutes while boyfriend José Prado made calls to 911 to report that Rodriguez was dying but hospital staff could not be convinced to treat her. According to waiting room video, and a June 15, 2007 report by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for at least 30 minutes "staff members walked past the patient or worked to clean the floor next to her without interacting with her"; at one point a janitor cleaned the floor around Rodriguez as she vomited blood. A bystander made a similar call, telling the 911 dispatcher that a woman vomiting blood was being ignored by emergency-room staff.
The caller requested an ambulance to transport the woman to another hospital, but her request was refused; emergency dispatchers would not act on the situation, nor call paramedic services, citing that the victim was at a hospital. The nighttime triage nurse, Linda Ruttlen, after repeatedly refusing to intervene, complained to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department that Rodriguez was causing a disturbance; officers ran a computer search on Rodriguez and found that she had a parole violation for possession of a controlled substance. As police were taking her into custody, Rodriguez became unresponsive and died on a stretcher. Results of toxicology testing by the coroner showed that Rodriguez tested positive for methamphetamine, but the level was not "life-threatening".
As a result of the incident, six staff members at King-Harbor, including a nurse and two nursing assistants, received "letters of expectation" (a letter outlining how they should behave in the future and carrying no additional penalty) from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS), taking into consideration previous performance history and their role in the event. In addition, the contract janitor was counseled verbally and the triage nurse (Linda Ruttlen) was placed on leave and later resigned. DHS placed most of the blame on Ruttlen, who pointedly refused requests to intervene, and she was referred to the state nursing board for investigation.
The incident, including the actions of 911 operators, was under review by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. In response to public outcry, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) asked federal regulators to address how they will protect patients at King-Harbor in light of "horrific" and "appalling" lapses in patient care.
The police, who had arrested Rodriguez in hopes of getting her better medical treatment in jail than she had received at the hospital, were absolved of wrongdoing.
- "Troubles at King-Harbor". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
- Charles Ornstein (2007-06-15). "How a hospital death became a cause celebre". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- "Tape: 911 operators did little to help dying woman in ER". CNN. Associated Press. June 13, 2007. Archived from the original on 9 July 2007. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
- ""Killer King" L.A. Hospital in Peril". CBS News. 2007-06-22.
- Ornstein, Charles (2007-05-20). "Tale of last 90 minutes of woman's life". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- Charles Ornstein and Susannah Rosenblatt. "6 King staffers disciplined with letters". Los Angeles Times.
- Therolf, Garrett (April 10, 2009). "L.A. County settles suit with King hospital patient's family". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 November 2015.