Published February 12, 2011
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The death of an Oregon man just feet from an emergency room has left his family in grief, upset police and drawn a request for an investigation from a congressman, all asking why an officer was told to call 911 for a heart attack victim just outside the hospital door.
Birgilio Marin-Fuentes had driven to Portland Adventist Medical Center shortly after midnight Wednesday, unable to sleep or stop coughing, then crashed his car into a pillar and wall inside the first level of the hospital parking garage under an "emergency parking only" sign about 125 feet from the emergency room entrance.
By the time somebody noticed the 61-year-old Cuban immigrant in his car and told a police officer in the emergency room, about 20 minutes had gone by.
Officers Angela Luty and Robert Quick found Marin-Fuentes unconscious and unresponsive and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. A third officer, Andrew Hearst, went to the ER intake desk and told them what was happening.
He was told to call 911.
"The officers recognized this man needed medical attention immediately, and two officers began CPR immediately, and a third officer went to ask for assistance, and they were told they had to wait until an ambulance arrived," said Sgt. Pete Simpson, a Portland Police Bureau spokesman.
Judy Leach, a hospital spokeswoman, said emergency room staff was told it was a car crash and they were following the proper protocol by instructing police to summon an ambulance crew.
"With an automobile accident you don't know if the patient needs to be extricated or transported," Leach said Friday. "There are protocols in place to ensure the right thing is done for the right patient at the right time."
She said hospital security officers equipped with a mobile defibrillator were dispatched, and a paramedic went outside to check on the situation.
But Simpson said officers did not receive any medical assistance and were left to fend for themselves until the ambulance arrived and the crew wheeled Marin-Fuentes the short distance to the emergency room aboard a gurney.
"It's a traumatic experience to give CPR and have a person not survive, especially to be that close to a hospital with trained medical personnel right there who could have assisted," Simpson said.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer said Friday he has asked the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to conduct an independent investigation to make sure the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act approved in 1986 was followed.
The act requires all Medicare participating hospitals with emergency departments to treat any critically ill patients on their premises, including parking lots, Blumenauer said.
Blumenauer said he was "deeply concerned" about the way the incident was handled and has been in contact with both national and state hospital associations "to make sure everybody gets their signals straight."
Mark McDougal, a Portland attorney representing the family of Marin-Fuentes, said the family was pleased that Blumenauer has asked for a federal investigation.
"It is particularly disturbing that the hospital has given an account which is directly contradicted by the officers at the scene," McDougal said.
Efforts by The Associated Press to reach the victim's wife, Claudia Luis Garcia, on Friday were unsuccessful.
But she told The Oregonian she believes if she had insisted on driving with her husband to the hospital, he might still be alive.
"They left him to die," Luis Garcia said.