Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

No harm, no foul

Posted by Ron Coleman on July 8, 2008

Heartless cruelty and brutal callousness about a patient’s condition? Yes, but with 20-20 hindsight a prosecutor decides that when a medical staff member charged with the duty of caring for patients instead treats one in obviously desperate distress like garbage, a jury shouldn’t even be given the chance to decide whether that action was criminal:

A nurse at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital was not criminally negligent despite refusing to examine Edith Rodriguez — who was kneeling and screaming in pain with a perforated bowel — and telling her to get off the floor, according to the report by Deputy District Attorney Susan Schwartz.

“Prompt intervention would not have saved her life,” Schwartz wrote in the report to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department about the May 2007 death.

“It cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that the nurse’s actions were a substantial factor in the death “or that any member of the MLK nursing or medical staff was criminally negligent,” the report said.

Doctors made a wrong diagnosis and failed to treat the patient properly until it was too late, but “a mistake, even a negligent mistake, does not amount to ‘criminal negligence,'” the report said.

Given that recitation of facts (and of course I have seen neither the actual report nor the primary documents and testimony or interviews), the prosecutor’s unwillingness to even let this near a jury has got to raise some questions.

For some reason this story seems to be of a piece with emergency room reality. Years ago, after falling in the subway and breaking my wrist and elbow and first trying an emergency room, I got back on the subway train to the Port Authority bus station, got onto a commuter bus and then drove ten miles back to my house with one hand rather than wait what seemed to be endlessly for treatment in the emergency room of Beth Israel Hospital. My last recollection of the emergency room is that it looked like the post-battle scene in Gone with the Wind.

Another time I once accompanied my then-67-year-old father to a hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey, Holy Name Hospital, on a Father’s Day when he was doubled over with abdominal pain. He was asked, after filling out the forms, to sit in the waiting room, where his pain got more and more intense. We asked the admitting nurse to get someone to see him, or at least some place where he could lie down, he hurt so much.

My dad ended up lying on the floor of the waiting room for over an hour. No one accommodated him before then. It was a kidney stone. Maybe you have heard about how those kind of hurt. This two-bit outfit left an old man on the floor for an hour without even finding a way to make him comfortable until, the interests of triage being what they are in a brutal M*A*SH*-type environment in Bergen County, New Jersey, one of the couple of wealthiest counties in America, a doctor could see him. My mother, being my mother, wrote to the entire board of this hospital to complain afterwards. Not a single one of them responded.

That’s what happened to a clean, neat, good-looking, middle-class Jewish white man in a suburban hospital on Father’s Day. Is it any surprise that someone several rungs lower on the socio-economic ladder, notwithstanding (indeed) the place on that ladder of the nurse in question, is treated no better, and maybe even somewhat worse? It happens from coast to coast. And will it be any wonder that this attitude will persist if there is no consequence for it?

Watch this story. The private lawsuit will have to serve the public, seeing as how Los Angeles County has declined to. As for my dad, thank God, he’s fine now. Me, I’ll never play the violin again.

UPDATE:  People are taking notice.

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3 Responses to “No harm, no foul”

  1. FSR said

    Unfortunately, the private lawsuit will not serve the public. The public has already been greatly harmed by this incident since the hospital that was a vital lifeline to the residents of that area has essentially closed and been deprived of $200 million in federal funds. Taking another 45 million dollars from the city/county will not improve healthcare for these people – it will only enrich a few family members and their lawyers. Those funds are lost – they will not be used to help the people in this area. A few of these people may go to some other hospital in the city that receives federal funding, but many of them can’t travel to these other hospitals and will face longer waits when they do.

    Unfortunately, the situation in the nations ER’s is only getting worse and the answer is more funding for medical care to provide more physicians and services in areas – could you imagine the wait your father would have had if there were twice as many patients in the ER he went to or if there were fewer nurses, beds, etc because a nearby hospital was closed or that hospital lost its funding? This is a problem that affects us all and while patients who are treated negligently should receive some fair compensation for thei injuries, exorbitant awards hurt us all. This is a zero sum game and no extra money will be paid to the city to take care of patients just because sojmeone won a huge lawsuit – are you willing to pay higher taxes to support this award??? I’m not.

  2. PhilCat said

    There is another angle here, and that’s the fake acting of the concerned relatives tears.
    I’ll put up 1000 dollars to prove them all azz holes for not coming to her aid prior to her showing up at the hospital.
    I bet the phone records prove my point.

    The clinics are not much more than a rapid oil change pit.
    I was left on the operating table while they stepped out for a break.
    Mean while the table collapsed sending me head first into the concrete tiled corner of the floor.

    A few minutes later, they casually stroll in thinking I left the room.
    I had to make them notice, then all hell broke sending me to x-ray before surgery.
    Then infection sets in after surgery requiring second operation at different hospital to repair what others did.

  3. mary said

    Urban emergency rooms are hellish, but rural emergency rooms are a little nicer. You still have to wait forever, and the care probably isn’t as up-to-date, but at least the nurses express a little concern.

    When I was a kid I once had to go to an urban emergency room for some summer injury (i think it was a swelling bee sting). My dad had been talking to the nurses and to passing doctors for hours trying to get some idea of when I would be treated. One of the nurses was a real Nurse Ratched type, and I remember Dad loosing his patience and saying, in a booming voice to her “You! are an extremely annoying woman.”

    She was so shocked to be hearing backtalk, she had no reply, she just stood there with her mouth open. I didn’t get to see a doctor right after that, but it sure made me feel better.

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