A Portland, Oregon man died of a heart attack in a hospital parking lot after hospital officials apparently refused to come to his aid. However, the hospital says it acted appropriately.
Birgilio Marin-Fuentes, 61, drove himself to the hospital early Thursday morning because he couldn't stop coughing, his widow said. He made it to the Portland Adventist Medical Center, but suffered a heart attack and crashed into a wall in the hospital's indoor parking lot.
No one noticed him for about 20 minutes. A bystander finally did and flagged down a Portland cop who was leaving the hospital's emergency room on an unrelated traffic case. The officer radioed to dispatch that there was an accident in the parking lot. As is protocol, dispatch called out fire and an ambulance to respond.
Minutes later, the officer and a second cop went to the car and found Marin-Fuentes unconscious in the car. They began performing CPR.
In the meantime, two other officers who arrived on the scene ran into the emergency room to get help. They were told to call 911 for an ambulance, Portland Sgt. Pete Simpson said.
"Hospital said they won't come out," one of the officers radioed to dispatch. "We need to contact AMR first."
The officers were stunned.
"It's certainly very frustrating for the officers who are not medical professionals in a hospital parking lot, to be told they have to call for an ambulance to help this man. The officers didn't stand there and argue, they continued CPR," Simpson said. "But they were in disbelief."
Six minutes after the initial officer was flagged down, an ambulance arrived and took Marin-Fuentes into the ER. He was pronounced dead 20 minutes later.
"They just felt really helpless," said Sgt. Debbie Steigleder, the officers' supervisor who arrived at the scene later. "To know that literally 150 feet or so away there are doctors and nurses there...It's just extremely frustrating."
The hospital, however, said it was just following its own protocol. In a statement, it said:
We do NOT have a policy against responding to emergencies in our parking lot. In fact, we always call 911 and send our own staff into these situations whether they are gun shot wounds, heart attacks, or any other medical emergency. We have done so many times in the past year alone.
In this specific situation, we would like to clarify the facts: A Portland Police Officer informed us of a car accident in our garage that we believe occurred at least 20 minutes prior. We advised the officer immediately call 911 because EMS have the mobile equipment to respond to a car accident. Before the officer left our Emergency Department, our charge nurse directed a paramedic to go immediately to the scene. She also dispatched our first responders, who are trained security staff, to go outside to the scene of the accident. When the security staff arrived, the police were already doing CPR. Then the nursing supervisor ran out to the garage. She saw that the ambulance and fire department had arrived and were actively preparing the patient for transport to our emergency room.
"We do call 911 to make sure trained responders can safely transport a patient to the emergency department," said Dr. Kelli Westcott, Portland Adventist's vice chair of emergency services. "We activate the EMS system so the trained responders can safely transport you to the emergency department because we want to give everybody the timely care that they deserve."
Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer Monday called for a federal investigation into whether Portland Adventist Medical Center violated any laws.
"It is not just heartbreaking, but incomprehensible that a hospital fully capable of treating this medical emergency left police officers with no medical equipment to tend to a patient," Blumenauer said. "If the police statements are correct, this incident defies common sense and it may well defy federal law."
He cited the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, passed in 1986, that requires all Medicare participating hospitals with emergency departments to treat any critically ill patients on their premises, including parking lots.
Marin-Fuentes died of natural causes due to heart disease, according to the state medical examiner's office.
"If I would have went with him, he would've been alive," his wife, Luis-Garcia said through tears, her 12-year-old daughter acting as interpreter. "They left him to die."