Another Hospital Death Tape, Another Lawsuit
Add this to your WTF (Where's the Fairness?) file.
First Beatrice Vance, then Edith Isabel Rodriguez, and now Esmin Green. You'd think after the first two incidents in which women died in the ER while hospital staff just looked on, that maybe, just maybe, hospitals would be on red alert to avoid this bad publicity--and oh yeah, the loss of human life.
What does this story mean for women of color, who've been the victims of the most widely publicized hospital waiting room deaths? And what does it say about the importance of making sure women of color and their families have access to the court system to hold negligent corporations accountable?
From the New York Times:
NEW YORK (AP) -- City hospital officials agreed in court Tuesday to implement reforms at a psychiatric ward where surveillance footage showed a woman falling from her chair, writhing on the floor and dying as workers failed to help for more than an hour.
Esmin Green, 49, had been waiting in the emergency room for nearly 24 hours when she toppled from her seat at 5:32 a.m. on June 19, falling face down on the floor.
She was dead by 6:35, when someone on the medical staff, flagged down by a person in the waiting room, finally approached, nudged Green with her foot, and gently prodded her shoulder, as if to wake her. The staffer then left and returned with someone wearing a white lab coat who examined her and summoned help.
Until the staffer's appearance, Green's collapse barely caused a ripple. Other patients waiting a few feet away didn't react. Security guards and a member of the hospital's staff appeared to notice her prone body at least three times, but made no visible attempt to see if she needed help.
One guard didn't even leave his chair, rolling it around a corner to stare at the body, then rolling away a few moments later.
...The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs the hospital, said six people have been fired as a result, including security personnel and members of the medical staff.
The psychiatric unit at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn had already been a subject of complaints by advocates for the mentally ill.
A state agency, the New York State Mental Hygiene Legal Service, and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit a year ago, calling the psychiatric center ''a chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger.''
Both sides in the dispute went before a federal judge Tuesday to jointly file papers in which the hospital system agreed to a series of reforms. Under the agreement, patients in the waiting room will now be checked every 15 minutes.
Over the next four months, the hospital will attempt to shorten the median waiting time to around 10 hours. A judge is scheduled to sign off on the agreement Wednesday. Keep Reading
I wonder if there have been any criminal charges filed against the hospital, like in the case of Beatrice Vance's death. I wonder if the family will sue, like Edith Isabel Rodriguez's family did. Can anyone tell me why on God's green earth this woman's family should consider not suing the hospital? I mean, this is precisely the type of thing that reminds us why access to the civil courts is so important. It is also the type of thing that has Bush and his friends in the corporate lobby so bent on restricting people's ability to file lawsuits or obtain adequate compensation.
It is worth noting that it is thanks to litigation initiated by trial lawyers at NYCLU and NY State Mental Hygiene Legal Service, that the hospital is agreeing to implement reforms to improve patient service in hospital waiting rooms. The reforms seem fairly modest to me (reducing the median wait time to 10 hours) but they're important nonetheless, and probably wouldn't have happened without a lawsuit creating pressure for the hospital to get on top of things. This is civil justice--using the courts to get changes made so as to prevent further harms against innocent people.
A troubling connector of all these deaths is that they all happened to women of color. What is going on here? First, women of color are more likely to be treated at less well-funded, less well-staffed hospitals with fewer mechanisms for ensuring quality care to patients. According to the Kaiser Famiy Foundation:
African American women and Latinas are more likely to obtain routine care at clinics or health centers (27% and 38%, respectively), and less likely than white women to receive care in a doctor’s office. This is due in part to minority women’s lower insurance coverage rates and heavier reliance on Medicaid, which has had historically low participation by private physicians. Despite common misperceptions, very few women of any race/ethnicity rely on emergency rooms for routine care.
What else is going on? is there a level of indifference towards these women's welfare? I mean, the descriptions of these incidents are pretty staggering: people looking on as if nothing's happening, the janitor mopping around Edith Isabel Rodriguez's body, the security guard wheeling over in his chair to get a view of Esmin Green writhing in pain, then wheeling back behind the desk. I find it utterly frightening.
Unfortunately, I have heard more than a few stories from women of color who've been barely examined by a doctor, told they are "fine," and sent home, only later to determine that they suffered from a lack of quality care.
Too bad these kinds of considerations weren't included in the reforms the hospital has agreed to implement thanks to that lawsuit. Perhaps they should be.
Thanks to the Center for Justice and Democracy for this tip. By the way, at ThePopTort they have an interesting post about injuries from medical errors in California.