Los Angeles County supervisors met in an emergency closed session Tuesday to discuss how a woman who had complained of severe abdominal pain at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital died last week after reportedly going untreated by medical staff.
The county investigation into the woman's death, reported by The Times on Tuesday, comes as county health officials are readying the recently downsized, long-troubled hospital for a crucial federal inspection in July that will determine its fate.
Edith Isabel Rodriguez, 43, lay down on the floor of the hospital's emergency room lobby in severe pain during a May 8 visit. Earlier that day, hospital employees had prescribed pain medication and released her.
Rodriguez's boyfriend pleaded with hospital security officers for help. The hospital's security officers discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for Rodriguez for a parole violation. As they took her into custody, she became unresponsive. Rodriguez died May 9.
The department apparently sent an e-mail to county officials that day saying that Rodriguez's boyfriend had become disruptive at the hospital. Rodriguez's death, according to a statement by county health officials Tuesday, "was unexpected and is being thoroughly reviewed ... for the appropriateness of care provided."
County health officials are interviewing staff involved in the case. A nurse involved in the incident has been placed on administrative leave, Supervisor Mike Antonovich said. The department is "cooperating fully" with sheriff's investigators and reported the death to hospital regulators, the statement said.
Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, whose district includes King-Harbor, until recently known as King/Drew, said she was "saddened and disappointed" at what happened but said she was waiting for more information before judging the situation. "If someone is sick at one of our hospitals, they should absolutely receive top-quality medical care," Burke said in a statement.
Some county officials protested that they were not fully informed of the incident until late last week, after a Times reporter called with questions about it.
Antonovich blamed the communication breakdown on a new county governance structure, under which most department heads report to the chief administrator instead of to the elected supervisors. The county administrator should have quickly passed news of Rodriguez's death from the health department to board members, Antonovich said.
Other supervisors shared Antonovich's concern in Tuesday's closed-door meeting: "They all agree this was irresponsible," Antonovich said. Rodriguez's death, however, did not shake Antonovich's confidence in King-Harbor's improvement.
"One tragic mistake does not undo the progress that has been made," he said.
County chief deputy administrative officer Sharon Harper and Assistant Sheriff Doyle Campbell are leading the investigation into the death. An autopsy was performed on Rodriguez on Saturday, but full results are still pending, officials said.