A real emergency

When you want to start a hospital, the government makes you get a "certificate of need" to show that the facility is really necessary.

What about when the hospital is a problem? Shouldn't there be a "certificate" for that, too?

Consider Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles.

How bad is the place? This bad: Observers twice called 9-1-1 to rescue a woman from the hospital's emergency room last month!

Now, that's bad.

What's worse is that 9-1-1 dispatchers refused to send paramedics to rescue Edith Isabel Rodriguez, who lay on the emergency room floor bleeding from her mouth, writhing in pain and dying of a perforated bowel for at least 45 minutes on May 9.

The federal government has given the county-run hospital 23 days to correct problems there or risk the withdrawal of funding, which would surely close it.

They should have been given 23 minutes. For a hospital in a major American city to watch a woman die on the floor and not lift a finger is criminal.

The county agency that runs the hospital says, "We at the department believe strongly that the community needs this hospital." Yet, it has been cited more than 12 times in less than four years for patient deaths that resulted directly from inadequate care.

Moreover, we rather doubt the "patients' rights" postings and staff counseling the hospital has reported since the incident will be enough. Consider Edith Isabel Rodriguez's experience:

When police brought her in and said she was complaining of stomach pains, the nurse said, "You have already been seen, and there is nothing we can do." When Rodriguez, 43, slipped onto the floor and writhed in pain, the nurse said, "Get off the floor and onto a chair!"

For the next 30 minutes, hospital staff stepped around her - and even cleaned the floor near her while ignoring her.

Her presence wasn't even noted in the emergency room log.

This is one of the worst nightmares of neglect and indifference we've ever heard of in American health care. These people shouldn't be counseled; they should be arrested and charged with criminal neglect of a patient.

And the hospital should have to get a "certificate" showing it's doing more good than harm.

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