LOS ANGELES – Relatives of a 43-year-old woman say hospital workers did nothing as she writhed in pain on the emergency room floor, and that officers who were asked to help arrested her on a parole violation instead.
The woman became unresponsive as police carted her away in a wheelchair and died.
County and state authorities are now investigating the May 8 death of Edith Isabel Rodriguez at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, formerly called King/Drew, where several patients have died under questionable circumstances since 2003.
Recent scandals have caused the hospital to lose its national accreditation and federal funding, close its trauma center and shut its programs to train aspiring physician specialists.
Rodriguez had been prescribed pain medication for intense abdominal pain and released, but she remained on the benches outside the hospital, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. Her boyfriend, Jose Prado, arrived later to find Rodriguez on the floor of the emergency room lobby writhing in pain, relatives said. He asked hospital staff for help, relatives said, then called 911 from a pay phone.
Hospital video cameras captured some of the incident, the newspaper reported.
"Nobody wanted to help him," said Rodriguez' sister, Marcela Sanchez. "When he tapped on the windows to tell the nurses that she needed help and that she was on the floor, they didn't want to pay attention to him."
Prado said he told hospital security officers she needed help, but police instead took Rodriguez into custody after a computer search showed an outstanding arrest warrant for a parole violation. She became unresponsive as officers pushed her out of the hospital in a wheelchair, he said.
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, which operates the hospital, said it was unable to immediately comment on the death.
"It was an unexpected death ... We're waiting for the facts to be revealed," spokesman Michael Wilson said Tuesday. He said the videotape could not be made public because of patient privacy laws.
Sheriff's Capt. Ray Peavy said sheriff's homicide detectives attended Rodriguez's autopsy over the weekend; as a matter of policy, the department investigates any in-custody death. The state Department of Health Services is also investigating.
Craig Harvey, coroner's office chief of investigations, said the initial report to his agency said a woman walked into the emergency room, collapsed and died. Only days later did the coroner learn Rodriguez was in custody. Results from her autopsy were pending.
The coroner's office described Rodriguez as a transient with a history of illicit drug use. Her family said she was trying to put her life together.
In the days leading to her death, Rodriguez was treated several times for severe abdominal pain and released, the Times reported.