LOS ANGELES – Amelia Mendoza's last words to her husband were that she was afraid she would be fired for reporting that she had been assaulted at her hospital nursing job.
Moments later, she had a massive hemorrhagic stroke that has left her in a vegetative state and in a health care limbo because of a dispute over her coverage.
Ralph Mendoza on Tuesday recalled his final discussion with his wife, saying he now provides 24-hour care, crushing medicine to put into his wife's tube feedings, bathing her twice a day, combing her hair and cleaning the tubes that help perform her bodily functions.
"I'm exhausted, but I love her and I have to do everything I can — for better or for worse, that's why we got married," he said, his voice trembling. "I cannot fail."
Amelia Mendoza, 52, was struck in the face, head and neck by a violent patient while working as a certified nurse assistant at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, attorney Russell Glauber said. She is not expected to recover from her April 20 collapse.
Claims for her care have been denied by her insurer, Blue Cross, and by workers' compensation, Glauber said. He is appealing Mendoza's workers compensation denial and calling on the state board to expedite its response.
Amelia's husband, though on disability himself, has been forced to care for his wife in their home.
"Both breadwinners are gone," Glauber said. "If Blue Cross refuses to pay because they say it's a workers compensation case, and compensation care is not paying, then who's left?"
Huntington Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Andrea Stradling confirmed Mendoza's employment at the hospital but said in a statement, "We do not believe that her current condition is related to any work-related injury."
In a brief statement, Blue Cross said it administers Huntington Memorial's health plan and that the hospital is responsible for deciding what benefits are covered.
Stradling said she could provide no further comment because Mendoza's case is an ongoing workers compensation matter.
Glauber said Mendoza was attacked on April 14 and 16 but was told to make an appointment at an in-house workers compensation clinic at Huntington hospital on April 20.
For unknown reasons, the clinic turned Mendoza away that day, he said. She collapsed while having dinner with her husband and son at a restaurant that night and has never recovered.
At that dinner "she was terrified, and very tired, and had a headache, and wondering if her boss was going to fire her," said Ralph Mendoza. "Her last words were that her boss was going to get mad at her for reporting what had happened."
An April 20 note in Mendoza's medical records says she was "in her usual state of health until about a week ago when she was bitten at work and had increased anxiety about her work injury."
The records also note that Mendoza had developed high blood pressure since the incidents.
Dr. Arthur E. Lipper, who was hired by Glauber, has examined Mendoza's medical records and said he believes the stroke was a result of Mendoza's workplace injury.
"Whatever conspired to cause her to have her stroke, clearly at least in part transpired after and because she was bitten, hit in the head and neck," Lipper said. "She was agitated because of it, and then she stroked.
"When somebody who has no known previous history of high blood pressure gets attacked on several occasions and it becomes high, the assumption is it's caused by the attacks," he said.