In the emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, Edith Isabel Rodriguez was seen as a complainer.
"Thanks a lot, officers," an emergency room nurse told Los Angeles County police who brought in Rodriguez early May 9 after finding her in front of the Willowbrook hospital yelling for help. "This is her third time here."
The 43-year-old mother of three had been released from the emergency room hours earlier, her third visit in three days for abdominal pain. She'd been given prescription medication and a doctor's appointment.
Turning to Rodriguez, the nurse said, "You have already been seen, and there is nothing we can do," according to a report by the county office of public safety, which provides security at the hospital.
Parked in the emergency room lobby in a wheelchair after police left, she fell to the floor. She lay on the linoleum, writhing in pain, for 45 minutes, as staffers worked at their desks and numerous patients looked on.
Aside from one patient who briefly checked on her condition, no one helped her. A janitor cleaned the floor around her as if she were a piece of furniture. A closed-circuit camera captured everyone's apparent indifference.
Arriving to find Rodriguez on the floor, her boyfriend unsuccessfully tried to enlist help from the medical staff and county police — even a 911 dispatcher, who balked at sending rescuers to a hospital.
Alerted to the "disturbance" in the lobby, police stepped in — by running Rodriguez's record. They found an outstanding warrant and prepared to take her to jail. She died before she could be put into a squad car.
...The Times reconstructed the last 90 minutes of Rodriguez's life based on accounts by three people who have seen the confidential videotape, a detailed police report, interviews with relatives and an account of the boyfriend's 911 call.
"I am completely dumbfounded," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has seen the video recording.
"It's an indictment of everybody," he said. "If this woman was in pain, which she appears to be, if she was writhing in pain, which she appears to be, why did nobody bother … to take the most minimal interest in her, in her welfare? It's just shocking. It really is."
...When the officers talked to the emergency room nurse, she "did not show any concern" for Rodriguez, the police report said. The report identifies the nurse as Linda Witland, but county officials confirmed that her name is Linda Ruttlen, who began working for the county in July 1992.
Ruttlen could not be reached for comment.
During that initial discussion with Ruttlen, Rodriguez slipped off her wheelchair onto the floor and curled into a fetal position, screaming in pain, the report said.
Ruttlen told her to "get off the floor and onto a chair," the police report said. Two officers and a different nurse helped her back to the wheelchair and brought her close to the reception counter, where a staff member asked her to remain seated.
The officers left and Rodriguez again pitched forward onto the floor, apparently unable to get up, according to people who saw the videotape and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
...When Rodriguez's boyfriend, Jose Prado, returned to the hospital after an errand and saw her on the floor, he alerted nurses and then called 911.
According to Sheriff's Capt. Ray Peavy, the dispatcher said, "Look, sir, it indicates you're already in a hospital setting. We cannot send emergency equipment out there to take you to a hospital you're already at.
...Marcela Sanchez, Rodriguez's sister, said she has been making tamales and selling them to raise money for her sister's funeral and burial. Her family has been called by attorneys seeking to represent them, but they do not know whom to trust.
She said the latest revelations, which she learned from The Times, are very troubling.
"Wow," she said. "If she was on the floor for that long, how in the heck did nobody help her then?
"Where was their heart? Where was their humanity? … When Jose came in, everybody was just sitting, looking. Where were they?"
Sanchez said her sister was a giving person who always took an interest in people in need, unlike those who watched her suffer. "She would have taken her shoes to give to somebody with no shoes," she said. Rodriguez, a California native, performed odd jobs and lived alternately with different relatives.
...Over the last 3 1/2 years, King-Harbor has reeled from crisis to crisis.
Based on serious patient-care lapses, it has lost its national accreditation and federal funding. Hundreds of staff members have been disciplined and services cut.
Oh, yeah, that reminds me. Sicko is coming to a theatre near you soon.