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Ruptured bowel led to death in ER lobby

June 02, 2007|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

A 43-year-old woman who writhed in pain for 45 minutes on the emergency room lobby floor of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital died of a perforated bowel, the Los Angeles County coroner's office said late Friday.

Neither hospital staff nor other patients attempted to assist her as she lay dying.

The coroner's office labeled the death of Edith Isabel Rodriguez on May 9 as an accident and said it had turned over its findings to the district attorney, the Sheriff's Department and the county Department of Health Services, which are investigating the death.

Other factors contributing to Rodriguez's death were a bowel obstruction and the effects of prescription drugs and methamphetamine use.

Her bowel broke open less than 24 hours before her death, and experts have said she could have been treated if it had been caught early enough.

The coroner's office said its complete autopsy report would not be released until Monday. A news release announcing the findings was distributed after 6 p.m. Friday.

Rodriguez's death, which has prompted federal and state probes, triggered immediate outrage after it was reported in The Times last month.

A videotape of the events shows the indifference of other patients and hospital staff, according to several people who saw it. At one point, a janitor cleaned around Rodriguez as she lay on the floor.

King-Harbor, formerly King/Drew, has been trying to rebound from a string of egregious incidents that have contributed to patient deaths beginning more than 3 1/2 years ago.

The county has slashed services, spent millions of dollars on consultants and disciplined hundreds of staffers.

Even so, the hospital's future is not assured. King-Harbor is preparing for a crucial inspection next month that will determine whether it receives federal funding. If it fails, the hospital could close.

Dr. Bruce Chernof, director of the county Department of Health Services, said in a written statement that Rodriguez was not provided with compassionate service and that her death was "inexcusable."

"It is important to understand that this was fundamentally a failure of caring," he said.

A triage nurse in the emergency room, who turned away pleas from county police and Rodriguez's boyfriend to help her, has resigned.

The emergency room supervisor was reassigned and other unspecified personnel actions have been taken, Chernof said.

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charles.ornstein@latimes.com

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