Return to Transcripts main page
Outrage Grows Over Death on LA Emergency Room Floor
Aired June 15, 2007 - 20:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, GUEST HOST: Tonight, a young woman makes it to the hospital with intense abdominal pain, then lies on the emergency room floor writhing in pain and bleeding from her mouth. The ER staff refuses - - refuses -- to treat her while family members and even another patient in the emergency room go to a pay phone and call 911 for help. Despite two frantic calls, 911 operators say there`s nothing they can do. Disturbing videotape even catches the janitor mopping the floor around her, sopping up her blood as she lay dying. The cause of death, a perforated bowel. Doctors say she could have been saved if treated in time. Now her family, their lawyers and an LA community are outraged and demanding answers as Los Angeles and the entire nation wait for prosecutors to take action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My wife is dying.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By the time her frantic boyfriend called 911 through an interpreter, Edith Rodriguez was on the floor in agony.
911 OPERATOR: What do you mean, she`s dying?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): She`s vomiting blood.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her boyfriend begged for help, but to the 911 dispatcher, that request didn`t compute because Edith was already in a hospital.
911 OPERATOR: Why aren`t they helping her?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They`re watching her. They`re watching her, and they`re just not doing anything. They`re just watching her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: According to the coroner, Edith Rodriguez died of a perforated bowel. There was a surveillance camera here at the hospital which recorded the last 45 minutes or so of her life, and according to witnesses, she spent it on the floor vomiting blood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The video is a lot more alarming than the audio.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: LA County supervisor, Zeb Yaroslowsky (ph), has seen the tape, which because of an ongoing sheriff`s investigation, hasn`t been released.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not one person out of a couple of dozen, including citizens and staff and doctors and nurses, didn`t lift a finger to help her, just ignored her. Even the janitors, who were cleaning up the vomit from around the woman who was on the floor, did a very elegant job of cleaning up the vomit, but didn`t do a thing to help her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Good evening. I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell, in tonight for Nancy Grace. Tonight, a nation is asking why, why was a dying woman ignored as she lay on the emergency room writhing in agony and vomiting blood? The Los Angeles hospital was chock full of doctors and nurses, and yet nobody lifted a finger to help her. Neither did 911.
Who is to blame? What should the victim`s family do now? How is it possible that such callous indifference can exist right here in LA, one of the world`s richest, most glamorous cities? And perhaps the biggest question, should we all be worried about how we will be treated when we have a medical crisis?
Tonight, team coverage and analysis, beginning with my dear friend, investigative reporter Pat Lalama. Pat, what is the very latest?
PAT LALAMA, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: ... covered LA for a long time. When was this hospital not a problem for this city? I mean, 20 years, and it`s worse now than ever. This comes on the heels of a warning by the federal government that you`ve got 23 days to clean up this hospital. They did just the opposite.
She comes here, arrives at the hospital on May the 9th, as you know, falls out of a wheelchair, and you know the rest of the story. Now Her family on it, getting lawyers. They`re going to right this wrong. We`ve got all branches of government investigating, and there`s a potential for criminal charges. And I think you`re going to see this hospital shut down.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Pat, we have the family here tonight. We have their attorney. But first I want to go to famed attorney and victims` advocate Gloria Allred because, Gloria, one thing that makes this case very different is security videotape that captured the 45 minutes of agony that this woman went through. Now, LA -- the hospital is not releasing this videotape. How dare they?
GLORIA ALLRED, VICTIMS` RIGHTS ADVOCATE: Well, Jane, I think that they`re claiming medical privacy laws prohibit them from releasing that videotape. But apparently, Zeb Yaroslowsky, who is one of the LA County Board of Supervisors -- he`s seen it. He says it`s shocking. Maybe they have other reasons for not wanting it released, like not wanting the public to see it. But in addition to that, even if there are medical privacy reasons for not releasing it, my guess is that in the course of the lawsuit that will be filed, that videotape will become evidence and we will see it at some point.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And if we think we have outrage now, wait until that videotape is released. Imagine watching video of a woman writhing on the floor for 45 minutes while a guy mops the blood and the vomit around her, while the hospital staff does absolutely nothing.
We have with us tonight the family of the victim. We have her three adult children. I`d like to introduce you to them -- Kimberly Rodriguez, Edmundo Rodriguez and Christina (ph) Rodriguez. Thank you so much for joining us. I know this must be extremely, extremely difficult for you.
And let me start with Kimberly. What are you going through? Because along with the grief, there`s got to be some rage, and that makes the mourning even more difficult, Kimberly.
KIMBERLY RODRIGUEZ, DAUGHTER: Well, right now, my emotion is just overwhelming because, you know, I`m not going to be able to see my mother. Yes, I have memories of her, you know, but I want more than that. I don`t...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: What do you want?
RODRIGUEZ: I want justice. I want understanding. I want clarification. I want to know, is this how the hospitals are run? And if they are, it shouldn`t be this way. Why is it being done this way? Do they not have their hospitals in order? What`s really going on?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Kimberly, do you think because your mother was classified as low-income and was uninsured, she was treated as a second class citizen, in essence?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I do.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: How does that make you feel in your gut, considering she was born in California?
RODRIGUEZ: Honestly, it makes me sick to my stomach because no matter the income of any person, you go to a hospital for medical treatment. You don`t go to a hospital to just lay there and die. You go there for your life to be saved, for someone that you depend on to save you because they know what to do, they know how to treat you. So whether you have insurance or not, the income doesn`t matter. You go there to get the help that you need.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, everybody is empathizing with your outrage because the nation has heard these 911 calls, frantic calls from your mother`s boyfriend, as well as a patient, trying to get help. Listen in.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My wife is dying, and the nurses don`t want to help her out.
911 OPERATOR: OK, what do you mean, she`s dying? What`s wrong with her?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): She`s vomiting blood.
911 OPERATOR: OK, and why aren`t they helping her?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): OK, they`re watching her. They`re watching her, and they`re just not doing anything. They`re just watching her.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
911 OPERATOR: What`s your emergency?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s a lady on the ground, and we`re in an emergency room at Martin Luther King, and they are overlooking her.
911 OPERATOR: If you`re not pleased with the result you`re getting from them, you know, we can`t...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it`s another patient. (INAUDIBLE) it`s another patient (INAUDIBLE) she`s down, all down on the ground, you know, and they...
911 PERSON: Well, ma`am, I cannot do anything for you for the quality of the hospital there. You understand what I`m saying? This line is for emergency purposes only.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Kimberly, what would you say to that 91 operator, given that your mother died soon after that call?
RODRIGUEZ: Why couldn`t they transport her? Obviously, they weren`t doing nothing, so they couldn`t transport her to another hospital? How is it not an emergency when she`s on the floor spitting blood? Obviously, there`s something wrong.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know, ironically, Kimberly, had gunfire erupted in that emergency room or had a fistfight erupted, they probably would have sent somebody, at least a sheriff`s deputy. Last question to you for the time being is, do you want to see that videotape released? Because they`re saying, Oh, patient confidentiality. We`re protecting the patient, i.e., the victim, your mother. For the truth to come out, people should see that video.
RODRIGUEZ: Honestly, yes, I would like for me and my family to see that video. We deserve to see that video because we want to know what`s going on, what happened. What do they have to hide?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: So you`re saying that not only has the public not seen it, they have not shown it to you.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wow. All right, let`s unleash the lawyers because I would assume that there`s going to be a big debate over whether or not they really have the right to keep this tape hidden, given the outrage across the nation over this fiasco. San Francisco deputy DA Paul Henderson and Rebecca Woodland, defense attorney, go at it. Of course, our Gloria Allred. Should they release the tape or not?
REBECCA ROSE WOODLAND, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Who do you want to start first?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let`s start with Rebecca.
WOODLAND: Sure. I think they should absolutely release the tape. I agree with Gloria. I understand there are constrictions with the health act, that now they need an approval from the estate. I guess they`ll have to wait for the estate. But we have the family right here saying they want to see the tape. Absolutely, the hospital should release this tape. This is a travesty, that this poor woman had to die in a hospital, waiting in an emergency room waiting room and no one tending to her. Terrible.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I mean, it seems...
PAUL HENDERSON, SAN FRANCISCO DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: And they will release it.
HENDERSON: The will release it. I think it`s just a matter of time.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: No, but they should release it now. People want to know now, Paul.
HENDERSON: They do want to know now because this whole case -- Mrs. Rodriguez is a victim. This is a tragedy. The standard of care was abysmal. And it really is an insult to poor communities, and it`s an embarrassment to the public. So I know that right now -- I know that right now, there are prosecutors, investigators and civil attorneys are lining up to intervene on behalf of this family and this poor victim. But it really does speak to the standard of care, the training, and in fact, the funding that`s provided to public institutions like this that are supposed to provide a service. Really, it`s outrageous.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: OK, so you think it should be also released now, Paul?
HENDERSON: It should be released. It should be released right now.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, Gloria...
ALLRED: Well, I mean, an argument could be made that there is no privacy in this situation because she was in front of a lot of other people waiting for help when, in fact, she was vomiting blood, and you know, experiencing terrible pain that she was experiencing. She wasn`t back in a little room with a doctor, telling him about or her about the problem that she was having. It was in front of everybody. It was in public. So maybe it could be released now.
But in addition, as soon as the estate is open, the estate would have a right to ask for that videotape, and they will get it. The children are not necessarily the same as the estate, but the executor of the estate could ask for it.
WOODLAND: Right. Gloria`s is right. That`s why...
HENDERSON: Before that even takes place...
WOODLAND: Yes. That`s why the hospital`s back, because they don`t want to have any further problems. They want to make sure they maintain the security and confidentiality of the deceased.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And of course, they don`t realize that the longer they hold off on this tape, they`re going to make it even more of a big deal when it comes out. That`s the nature of life. The more you try keep something hidden, the bigger the explosion when it finally comes out.
We have with us on the phone from Los Angeles Janice Hahn, a Los Angeles City councilwoman. First of all, Councilwoman Hahn, we thank you for coming on the show. We want to congratulate you because the NANCY GRACE show has been working all day long, into the evening, trying to get somebody, anybody from the county to talk, and nobody would talk. They are hiding tonight and cowering tonight. So I congratulate you on your courage to speak up tonight, representing the city of Los Angeles, at least.
But you`ve lived here a long time. Is there any explanation for this fiasco? We all know this is a hospital with a terrible reputation, but still.
JANICE HAHN, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCILWOMAN: No. And let me clarify the fact that I am a city council member in Los Angeles.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Right. That`s what I said.
HAHN: We actually have no authority over this hospital. But let me first of all offer my condolences to the Rodriguez family. It just makes me sick to my stomach, particularly for me because my father, who was a long-time county supervisor in Los Angeles, Kenny Hahn, was really the champion to build this hospital in 1972 after the Watts riots. He believed that this community, which was a very underserved community in Los Angeles, deserved to have a quality hospital.
So now, so many years later, to hear this story of this terrible incident in the emergency room would just make him sick and make all of us sick. This was never to be the kind of hospital that this has ended up to be. It was to provide quality health care.
HAHN: Even those who are uninsured, the poor of the poor, deserve to have quality health care, and...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And that`s who live in the area. A lot of uninsured people live in that area. So the very people this hospital is supposed to serve is the poor and the uninsured.
Let`s go to the phone lines. They are lighting up. Linda from Massachusetts, your call, ma`am?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Hi, Jane. I have a question. I was wondering, is the 911 dispatchers equally liable as the emergency room employees?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, let`s go back to our lawyers and ask them that because everybody is blaming the hospital, but the callousness of these 911 operators, both of them -- in fact, one of them scolding the caller, the patient who called the second time, and saying, This is not an emergency, and she`s, like, You`re not here, and insisting this is not an emergency -- can these individuals face, beyond getting disciplined -- apparently, they`ve just been canceled -- some kind of criminal action taken against them? Gloria?
HENDERSON: Well it, depends -- oh, go ahead.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Go ahead.
HENDERSON: Well, it depends on -- it`s going to depend on an evaluation. Certainly, you`re going to see some civil liability that`s going to cover the hospital. We already know that the nurse has been fired. The chief medical officer has been fired. And oftentimes, when you have an intervening third party criminal conduct act, that breaks the liability. But I`m sure, civilly, the 911 dispatcher is going to be attached (ph). The police department may be involved and could be attached. Certainly, the hospital is going to be attached. But for the criminal culpability standards you really have to look at who has a duty of care and who failed in that duty and had a cause in that death.
ALLRED: And that`s an important issue because from what I`ve read, the LA County sheriff has indicated that, apparently, there was no policy in place, Jane, for what a 911 operator should do or say if a 911 call came in from the emergency room of a hospital. That`s an unusual situation. Now they know, they better get a policy in place and they better be sure that their dispatchers are trained to implement that policy because what has happened is just outrageous, and now we have a dead woman.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We sure do, and we`ve got a lot of outraged living people who are demanding to see that videotape. LA County, show it to us. We want to see it.
To tonight`s "Case Alert." Caught on video and then arrested, a suspect finally in custody in the beating death of a mentally disabled man. Forty-one-year-old James McKinney (ph) on his way to an LA store when a male attacker, already waiting on the sidewalk, hits McKinney from behind with a baseball bat, 28-year-old Jason Verdor (ph) arrested on suspicion of murder, held on $1 million bail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As Edith Rodriguez lay in pain, bleeding on the floor of King Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles, not one hospital staff member helped her. When her boyfriend called 911 begging for help, the dispatcher refused to send paramedics. An ER bystander placed a second call to 911, and that dispatcher insisted it wasn`t an emergency. This is the latest incident in a series of patient care breakdowns at King Harbor Hospital. A hospital spokesperson said, "No comment."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell, in tonight for Nancy Grace. It`s a story that would seem extreme except for a horror movie, but what happened to 43-year-old Edith Rodriguez was all too real. She died while in the emergency room of a Los Angeles hospital. Though clearly desperate for help, the only response she got was from a janitor, who mopped up her blood as she lay dying. Absolutely incomprehensible.
Everybody is beating up on this hospital, but we try to show both sides of the story. Let`s go to defense attorney Rebecca Woodland. If you`re the hospital, how do you defend your conduct?
WOODLAND: You know, in this case, I think the hospital is going to try to say that, yes, they have been plagued with problems and they were trying to restructure. They were trying to make things better. There`s some evidence that they have a new director and he was trying to work on these problems. But there were problems in the past, and unfortunately, things don`t get done as quickly. The emergency room apparently was incredibly understaffed, and there was way too many ill people in there. That`s why she wasn`t moved from the waiting room into the emergency room. These are all defenses that the hospital will take. It`s unfortunate.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right...
WOODLAND: That`s what they`re saying now. Is it true? Well, we`ll see because they`ll have to provide this evidence. I don`t think that they`re dying -- they`re denying people were dying in the emergency room. They`re going to have to show that they had so many people and they were so understaffed because they were probably -- weren`t funded, unfortunately.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes, I got you. Let`s go to Dr. Marc Siegel because he is not only an internist and author of "False Alarm," he also worked at one of the biggest ERs in the world, NYU Bellevue (ph). Welcome, Doctor. What do you make of all this? I mean, is there any excuse? The first credo of medicine is, First do no harm.
DR. MARC SIEGEL, FORMER ER DOCTOR, AUTHOR, "FALSE ALARM": Oh, absolutely, Jane. This is a horror story. And you know, it`s all about triage in any emergency room. Even if an ER is understaffed, that`s not an excuse because you have to triage the sickest patients first. This patient was sent out and then came back in and was sent out, kept having abdominal pain. You know, if a doctor put his or her hand on the belly of this patient who was having a perforated bowel, they would have seen it was a surgical emergency right away. An X-ray shows air under the diaphragms, which can be diagnosed right away. A quick and expedient response to the sickest patients like this one could probably have saved her life.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, I spoke to somebody who said a perforated bowel, as well as she had gallstone issues -- both of those are extraordinarily painful. Give us a sense of what she was going through as she writhed on that floor.
SIEGEL: Well, especially true, Jane, that the gallbladder is a very, very big source of pain. And when you have a perforated bowel, it didn`t happen overnight. It evolves into that situation. It`s extremely painful because there`s a lot of nerve endings to the bowel. And you know what? When you`re vomiting blood, that`s such a sign that anybody can see that, but no doctor or no nurse should be ignoring when a patient is vomiting blood. It should never get to the point where we got to talk about a videotape. This patient without a videotape is somebody that needed to be triaged, seen and brought to the operating room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s no way to describe, you know, how we feel right now. We`re just devastated at the way she was treated and the way she was left there like an animal, you know? She`s a person. You don`t do that. Even animals are treated better. Why? We still want to know why, and we still haven`t got answers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell, sitting in for Nancy Grace. What does it say about our society that a woman can lay dying on the floor of an emergency room in a Los Angeles hospital and the staff refuses to help her, even though her boyfriend and other patients are frantic and begging for assistance? How does a hospital get this sick?
I want to go back to Dr. Marc Siegel for the answer because, obviously, corporations have cultures, but hospitals have cultures, as well. This hospital has been troubled for so many years. I have to tell you, when I injured myself at the courthouse and cut my leg and they put me on a gurney, they said, the paramedics, We`re taking you to Martin Luther King. And I looked at them and then they said, Just kidding, and started laughing hysterically. That`s how bad the reputation of this hospital is, Doctor.
SIEGEL: Well, you know, when we started talking about it before the break, you really have to start with triage. In an ER, you have to have observation of all the patients. At least nursing has to be looking at the patients that are in direct view. You can`t have people waiting in waiting areas, even if it`s understaffed, you have triage. You have somebody looking at the patient and saying, This patient isn`t doing very well. Let`s get a doctor involved right away, and then you move from there. You can`t leave patients where they`re not observed.
And you`re right, the hospital gets a reputation for this, and then, you know, that`s another reason that the 911 operator shouldn`t have just passed the buck on this. You can`t be in the public sphere and say, This isn`t my job. You have to deal with sick patients.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CALLER: My wife is dying, and the nurses don`t want to help her out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As Edith Rodriguez was dying on the emergency room floor of Martin Luther King Jr. Harbor Hospital, 911 dispatchers received two separate calls. Both callers seemed to see what hospital staff members apparently didn`t, that this woman needed immediate attention.
DISPATCHER: OK, what do you mean she`s dying? What`s wrong with her?
CALLER: She`s vomiting blood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened to Edith Rodriguez is an extreme example of more than a decade of troubling incidents at a hospital that serves some of L.A.`s poorest residents, many of whom are uninsured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell in tonight for Nancy Grace. A family and an entire nation crying out for answers and justice tonight, as horrific new details emerge about the nightmarish and deadly conditions at one Los Angeles hospital, the Martin Luther King Jr. Harbor Hospital. As we learn that a woman writhed for 45 minutes on the E.R. floor, ignore as she lay dying, we`re also learning ugly details about this hospital`s long and troubling list of medical scandals. Investigative journalist Pat Lalama, I know we`d be here all night talking about them, but just give us a couple to give us a sense of the scandal.
PAT LALAMA, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, first let me tell you this, that just recently the federal government said that the emergency room was so bad that people were actually put in jeopardy there. OK, that`s number one.
Four years ago, they almost lost $200 million in funding. Five hundreds employees have been reprimanded over the last many years. One man couldn`t get treatment for 11 hours, finally walked out. A young child with broken teeth ended up dying. A woman drank tissue preserve fluid that one of the nurses accidentally left on her table. She died. A person was given HIV-tainted blood. He died.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: OK, Pat. I mean, it`s not funny, it`s horrific, but the list...
LALAMA: It`s horrible.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: It`s incomprehensible. Let`s go to Franklin Casco, a family attorney -- and, by the way, the phone lines are lighting up. We`re going to get to the callers in just a moment. But, Franklin Casco, what is your strategy to get justice for the Rodriguez family?
FRANKLIN CASCO, ATTORNEY: Jan, before I begin, I want to say thank you very much on behalf of the Rodriguez family and myself for having us her. My strategy is this: The tape will be released. It will be released in the next approximately two weeks. The reason the tape is not released yet is because the district attorney`s office is reviewing the tape for possible criminal prosecution against hospital staff.
I personally went to the hospital on Friday. I took a random walk through that hospital, and I saw what goes on with my own eyes. My intent is to file one lawsuit against L.A. County, against the hospital; lawsuit number two, which will be combined with the first lawsuit, there is Los Angeles County safety police on staff there at the hospital. They were privy to the night Edith Rodriguez died. As a matter of fact, Edith Rodriguez was in custody of the officers at the time of her death.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me jump in there, Franklin, because this is one of the aspects, the horrific aspects of all of this that makes it even more mind-boggling. When somebody actually finally -- after the calls, I guess -- runs up to the kiosk where the police are and says, "Help this woman, she`s dying," they run her name, apparently, according to the reports I`ve read, through their system, and instead of helping her, they arrest her, put her in the wheelchair, take her to the squad car, and then tell her, "Get up, and get in the squad car," and she`s unresponsive. That`s when they give her the smelling salts. Is that fairly accurate, sir?
CASCO: That`s correct. I don`t even think they got to the smelling salt because the blood was seeping out of her mouth, and they believed it to be chocolate. They mistakenly believed the blood seeping out of Miss Rodriguez`s mouth was chocolate.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Oh, my -- this is, I mean, of all the things that I have heard involving hospitals over the years of reporting, this is the absolute worst.
Gloria Allred, I just got to you to put it in context. I mean, here we have now this lawsuit that`s going to be filed. This is going to obviously cost many millions of dollars. Is there any way to put a price tag -- what do you think is going to come out of this civil litigation, in terms what this family is going to get?
GLORIA ALLRED, ATTORNEY: Well, it`s difficult to say. There are a lot of legal obstacles that have to be overcome, Jane. On the other hand, they are going to be seeking damages, because that is what happens in a civil lawsuit, which the attorney has indicated they`re planning to file. And, you know, they`re not going to be able to get their mother back, but they are going to seek damages. And while they should, I think it`s a good thing there will be a lawsuit and a lot will come out that we don`t even know now, I`m sure, through the lawsuit.
Now, it`s also being indicated that maybe there will be possible criminal prosecution, as well as a civil lawsuit for damages. If there`s criminal prosecution, that`s going to be very interesting. Against whom? For what? I`m reading that the triage nurse, for example, has resigned.
Triage nurse, as a doctor earlier pointed out, is somebody who needs to be assessing the patients as they come into the hospital, setting priorities. I mean, who is in need of urgent care?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: So basically, Gloria, what you`re saying is, this triage nurse, even though she`s resigned, should get lawyered up?
ALLRED: Well, I don`t want to give her advice, but I would say that, if she has resigned, if she didn`t assess it, if it was her job to assess it, if she saw her, didn`t assess her correctly, she would probably be well-advised to get some legal advice.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I want to go to psychologist Lillian Glass, who has been waiting very patiently. What this reminds me of is the Kitty Genovese case back in the `60s, when about 37 people were around as a woman got stabbed to death and nobody did anything. And that became a very, very famous, almost historical case. Any connections?
DR. LILLIAN GLASS, PSYCHOLOGIST: Right, well, the lack of humanity here is unconscionable. And it`s interesting that the councilwoman, Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, proposes that they have a customer service class so this won`t happen again. What about having a humanity class, a class to teach people to have heart again, to have feelings? This is just unacceptable, what`s happened, and it really speaks...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: How did the hospital deteriorate like this? Apparently these nurses, many of them are not passing the nursing tests, and the federal inspectors have gone in there, and said that people are at risk of harm or death?
GLASS: Right, they`re just phoning it in. They don`t have compassion. They don`t have feelings. It`s just a job. It`s a paycheck to them, and it`s really horrible. And when you look at this family, your heart goes out to these three children and to the boyfriend, as well, that loved this woman. And for him especially, because in his case, this woman helped him when he was ill, so now, he`s tried to help her, and it`s failed. And so he`s going to go through a lot of psychological problems.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right, the phone lines have lit up. Lawanda from Alabama, thank you for your patience. Your question, ma`am.
CALLER: Hello, Jane. I`m a health care professional from Alabama, and I couldn`t agree with Dr. Siegel more. What I wanted to find out is, they showed no ethical regard for this lady. What about who monitors their professional compliance? Are they under the JCAHO commission? I mean, with all of these listed complaints or documented complaints or violations, who regulates them?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: You raise a very good point. Let`s go back to Dr. Siegel. Yes, there are medical boards that are supposed to govern how medical professions behave. We saw that with the Anna Nicole Smith case. There were investigations -- and there still are -- into people who prescribed medicine, et cetera, to her. What about this case?
DR. MARC SIEGEL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, NYU: Well, you know, Jane, this E.R. has seen 49,000 visits per year. That`s a lot. And it is under JCAHO jurisdiction, and it needs to be policed better. And, you know, I`ve been thinking the whole night that a lot of the hospitals do better, county hospitals included, when they`re under university jurisdiction. UCLA does a great job of looking at -- at being involved with county hospitals, just not this one.
So this whole place has to be reorganized. And the idea that poor people could suffer or somehow she`s prejudiced against because they`re concerned about a possible arrest, that`s just -- I mean, we`re not only supposed to do no harm, we`re supposed to look at everybody and treat them equally.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: You said it absolutely best. Money and where you`re from and how rich you are should have absolutely nothing to do with this.
To tonight`s "Case Alert." Miami homicide detectives take over the search for a college honor student vanished Memorial Day weekend in Miami, Florida. A 22-year-old, Stepha Henry, last seen May 29th at a concert, traveling there in a four-door black sedan. Police now investigating cars dumped in canals and tracing Henry`s cell phone signals. A recent graduate of John Jay College, headed to law school, Henry is 5`2", 110 pounds, brown eyes, now with red hair. She was last seen wearing a black jumper, white t-shirt underneath. If you have any information, please, please call Crimestoppers at 305-471-8477.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not one person of a couple of dozen, including citizens and staff and doctors and nurses, didn`t lift a finger to help her, just ignored her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: L.A. County Supervisor Zeb Yuroslowky (ph) has seen the tape which, because of an ongoing sheriff`s investigation, hasn`t been released.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even the janitors did a very elegant job of cleaning up the vomit, but didn`t do a thing to help her. It was just indescribable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell, in tonight for Nancy Grace. As we focus on an incomprehensible case of deadly indifference, a woman allowed to die in a Los Angeles E.R., despite frantic pleas for help. How can we, as a society, make sure that something like this never happens in America ever again? You know, the nickname of this hospital, Rebecca Woodland, defense attorney, is Killer King, that`s what they call it. It`s failed many inspections. Many of its nurses failed the nursing tests that they`re put through. How do you defend that kind of track record?
REBECCA WOODLAND, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: I`ll tell you, the hospital will try to defend itself, in numerous ways. They`ll say they didn`t have proper funding, that the funding was so poor, because they were in an area where they service poor people. They were overcrowded and understaffed.
They will say that there were various issues with regard to this patient that they will not release medical testimony about or medical evidence about, that maybe her condition was not clarified properly. Possibly the police got involved and confused the hospital staff or took her away from the main area where she should have been treated.
There seems to be some issues with the police here that the hospital continued to say, until we get the full story we can`t make a statement. That`s what they`ve been saying. Possibly there is more to this story than we know about. It`s unfortunate, obviously. Let`s hope that there is some sort of, you know, not necessarily...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: There`s a huge cast of characters, and that`s one of the things that makes it complicated, 911, the hospital, the police, but it is a county hospital.
I want to go back to the victim`s family. There`s the three adult children of Edith Rodriguez. Christina Rodriguez, has anybody from the county, the hospital, any official, called your family to apologize, to offer condolences, to offer an explanation or anything?
CHRISTINA RODRIGUEZ, DAUGHTER OF WOMAN WHO DIED AT HOSPITAL: No, nobody`s called or tried or anything. No one.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: No one?
RODRIGUEZ: No one.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And what runs through you when you ponder that, that you`ve gotten zero phone calls, even though your mother died after writhing on the floor?
RODRIGUEZ: To me, I think they know that they`re guilty. They know that they were -- they messed up, and they can`t apologize for it now. It`s too late.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Janice Hahn, L.A. city councilwoman, you`ve been a longtime politician in L.A. Are they making a big mistake by not calling?
JANICE HAHN, L.A. CITY COUNCILWOMAN: I think so, which is why the first thing I said out of my mouth was, I felt really bad, and I offered my apologies for this horrible death. And I think what we`ve got to realize is, you know, Edith`s case was horrible, absolutely horrible, and just inhumane, but this hospital serves, you know, a very, very poor constituency. Sixty percent of them are unemployed. Just in Watts, 50 percent of the people in Watts are living in poverty. This is their only chance at getting medical care. There is no other choice; there is no other hospital; there`s no alternative.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wait a second. If this hospital is shut down because they don`t improve, as has been threatened, where do the 49,000 people it serves every year go? Because traffic is impossible in Los Angeles. I mean, if you try to go to another hospital that`s far away, you could die on the way trying.
HAHN: And this hospital was built because the people in that community were dying, not because of their injury or their illness. They were dying because of the transportation time it took to get to the nearest hospital. And we can`t go backwards and shut this hospital.
It has to be improved. It has to be fixed, because people will die. People are dying at the hospital, but I think there`s no other choice but to fix this hospital, fix it now. It doesn`t take rocket science to triage patients that come into an emergency room. This is unconscionable. I cannot believe that the problems at this hospital can`t be fixed and can`t be fixed soon.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And, you know, we`ve been talking about a two-tiered system of justice with the Paris Hilton case. This also highlights a two- tiered system when it comes to medical care. The phone lines lighting up. Joe from Michigan, thank you for your patience. Your question?
CALLER: Hi, Jane. My question is, since the hospital has to be accredited, and obviously this is not the first mistake they`ve made, shouldn`t they lose their accreditation until they can totally restructure and really help these people? They`re not helping them.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, that`s what we`ve been talking about, Dr. Marc Siegel. Obviously, this hospital is in huge trouble. It`s taken a lot of steps this past fall. It reduced the number of beds drastically, from about 200 down to approximately 40. It has tried to get a handle on itself, but can`t seem to do it. Any explanation?
DR. MARC SIEGEL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, NYU: Well, you know, even if it`s understaffed, and that`s its big complaint, there`s also a structural problem, because, I mean, look, somebody comes into an emergency room. A triage person sees them. They assign a physician.
Even if the person`s in police custody, let`s say, the physician`s supposed to go over there and check on the patient. So there seems to be a complete disorganization here, just from this case alone. So the hospital has to go through a way of reorganizing itself, with checks and balances. And, really, that`s not that hard to do, and that`s what has to happen, probably to save the hospital.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right, last word. We have only a few seconds, Gloria Allred. Wouldn`t it be a lot cheaper to fix the hospital than to pay all of these millions in lawsuits?
ALLRED: Well, exactly. And the cost of loss of human life such as the loss of Ms. Rodriguez`s life and what that means to her children and her grandchildren, it`s just too high a price. No one should have to pay that price, and no dispatcher should say, "That`s not an emergency." How could the dispatcher possibly know without being there?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: What a week in America`s courtrooms. Take a look at the stories and, more important, the people who touched all our lives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY GRACE, CNN HOST: We are live at L.A.`s Twin Towers Correctional Facility, where a celebutante Paris Hilton sits in a medical wing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is wrong for Paris Hilton to be in the glamour slammer medical facility, where she has a room with a view and is playing ping-pong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently, there`s a diagnosis of ADD and claustrophobia. Whether it`s a legitimate diagnosis, that`s another problem.
GRACE: That is total B.S.
An entire family of children wiped out by a deadly inferno. Why? Because they were home alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was arson. We ruled it incendiary, as a result of children playing with matches.
GRACE: A young woman makes it all the way to the hospital in intense pain, then lies on the E.R. floor, E.R. staff refusing to treat her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re watching her there, and they`re not doing anything. They`re just watching her.
GRACE: A mom and her three children found dead in an SUV, just feet away from an Illinois interstate. The dad sustains only a wound to the thigh.
RICHARD HERMAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This guy has to call a lawyer right away. They`re going to hold him until they get the ballistics.
GRACE: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I thought everybody was innocent. Why does he need a lawyer, Richard?
A Kentucky police chief gunned down inside his own police cruiser while making a routine DUI arrest. Tonight, our sympathy and our prayers out to the family of Police Chief Randy Lacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, we remember Army First Lieutenant Keith Heidtman, just 24, from Norwich, Connecticut, killed in Iraq. Heidtman was an honors military grad at the University of Connecticut with a bachelor`s degree in agricultural and resource economics. On a second tour of duty, awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, he loved working as a lifeguard and counselor at a camp back home for kids with terminal illnesses. Heidtman leaves behind a grieving family, his dad, Kerry, his mom, Maureen, his sister, Keely, and his girlfriend, Megan. Keith Heidtman, an American hero.
We want to thank all our guests tonight for their insights. Thanks to you at home for tracking these very important cases with us. I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell, in tonight for Nancy Grace. We hope to see you right here tomorrow night, 8:00 sharp Eastern. Until then, have a wonderful and a safe evening.