New 911 tapes released Tuesday reveal that dispatchers refused to send help to a woman ignored by hospital staff as she lay dying on the floor of a Los Angeles emergency room.
Edith Isabel Rodriguez, 43, died after dispatchers on two 911 calls refused to contact paramedics or an ambulance to send her to another facility, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. The second dispatcher went so far as to argue with the caller over whether it was a real emergency.
Rodriguez died of a perforated bowel on May 9 at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital. Her death was ruled accidental by the Los Angeles County coroner's office.
In the calls — posted after they were released by the county Sheriff's Department under the newspaper's California Public Records Act request — callers plead for help for the woman left bleeding from the mouth and writhing in pain for 45 minutes on the hospital's floor.
Rodriguez's boyfriend, Jose Prado, used a pay phone outside the hospital to call 911 at 1:43 a.m.
"I'm in the emergency room. My wife is dying and the nurses don't want to help her out," he said in Spanish through an interpreter.
"What's wrong with her?" a dispatcher asked.
"She's vomiting blood," Prado said.
"OK, and why aren't they helping her?" the dispatcher asked.
"They're watching her there and they're not doing anything. They're just watching her," Prado said.
The dispatcher told the man to contact a doctor and then said paramedics won't pick up his wife because she already was in a hospital. Later, she told Prado to contact county police officers at a security desk.
Experts have said Rodriguez could have survived had she been treated early enough. The head of the county's Department of Health Services, which oversees the facility, has called her death "inexcusable."
A second 911 call was placed eight minutes later by a woman bystander who requested that an ambulance be sent to take Rodriguez to some other hospital for care.
"She's definitely sick and there's a guy that's ignoring her," the woman told a different dispatcher.
During the brief call, the dispatcher argued with the woman over whether there really was an emergency.
"I cannot do anything for you for the quality of the hospital. ... It is not an emergency. It is not an emergency, ma'am," he said.
"You're not here to see how they're treating her," the woman replied.
The dispatcher refused to call paramedics and told the woman that she should contact hospital supervisors "and let them know" if she is unhappy.
"May God strike you, too, for acting the way you just acted," the woman said finally.
"No, negative ma'am, you're the one," he said.
"What's real confusing … was that she was at a medical facility," Sheriff's Capt. Steven M. Roller, who is in charge of the Century Station, which handled the calls, told the Times. "That poses some real quandaries."
Roller told the Times that the second dispatcher's tone was inappropriate.
"As a station commander, I don't like any of my employees getting rude or nasty with any caller, regardless, and in that particular case, obviously, the employee's conduct could have been better," Roller said, telling the Times the employee received written "counseling."
Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital formerly was known as Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. The name was changed as part of a reorganization after years of problems including patient deaths blamed on sloppy nursing care and hospital mismanagement that has threatened its federal funding.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.