A psychiatric patient died while everyone in the emergency room waiting area ignored her for almost an hour.
This psychiatric patient was sent to the emergency room of Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY to wait for an in-patient bed. Importantly, she had been sent down to the emergency room the day before, with someone to watch her. According to published reports, she waited in the ER for an entire day and night. A shockingly disturbing surveillance video of the psychiatric emergency room waiting area shows this woman falling off of her chair, writhing on the floor and nobody notices. Not even the two or three people who were in the waiting area. It's not until 45 minutes later does a psychiatric patient notify hospital staff that the poor patient is on the ground, not moving. The video clearly shows her on the floor, not moving.
In today's published news reports from Newsday, the NY Post, and the Daily News, each report that the director of the psychiatric emergency room was immediately fired and other staff members were either fired or suspended.
More importantly, the hospital records for this patient reflect that while she was ignored and dying in the emergency room waiting area, she was allegedly on an assigned floor and going to the bathroom. The district attorney and federal officials are now looking into criminal charges for obvious inconsistencies within the medical record and what actually happened.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO ANY POSSIBLE MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CASE AGAINST KINGS COUNTY HOSPITAL FOR THIS TRAGIC NEGLECT?
First, a family member would have to file a "Notice of Claim" against the corporate entity that owns Kings County Hospital. This legal entity is known as the New York City Health & Hospitals Corporation with an address at 346 Broadway in New York City. The notice of claim must be filed within 90 days from the date of the malpractice. If it is not filed within that time, the family's attorney would have to apply to the Court for special permission to file a late Notice of Claim. There are many legal obstacles to getting approval to file a late Notice of Claim.
If the Notice of Claim is timely filed, the family would have only one year and 90 days from the date of the malpractice within which to start a lawsuit against New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.
However, filing the "Notice of Claim" only puts the corporation "on Notice" of a potential lawsuit. It doesn't establish negligence, departures from good and accepted medical care, or that the injuries or death resulted from the medical malpractice. In order to evaluate whether there is truly a valid case that can be medically supported, the family needs to have their lawyer do a number of preliminary things:
1. A family member needs to be appointed as the legal representative of the "estate" of the person who died. This is known as "Applying for letters of administration."
2. Once that has been done, the family's lawyer will then request the complete medical record from Kings County Hospital. The hospital will notify the lawyer how much it costs to copy the records, and the lawyer will forward a check for copying costs.
3. After the lawyer has received the medical records, he or she can be expected to read every single page of the hospital records to learn for himself what exactly happened, at least according to the written record.
4. The lawyer will then hire a medical expert, usually in the medical specialty involved in the malpractice, to evaluate the hospital record from a medical standpoint. The attorney will ask the medical expert to determine if there were departures from good medical care; whether those departures from good care substantially caused or contributed to the injuries and untimely death; and whether the injuries are significant and permanent.
5. Once the medical expert has confirmed each of those necessary elements, then the lawyer can confidently notify the family that there is a valid basis for a lawsuit, and the family can now proceed forward.
6. Importantly, in a case against a municipal hospital- which is what Kings County Hospital is- after the "Notice of Claim" is filed, a family member will need to appear for a question and answer session with their attorney. This is known in the New York legal community as a "50-h" hearing, which is really part of the "General Municipal Law" of the City of New York. It is only after this hearing has been held, and thirty days have gone by, can the family's lawyer then file a lawsuit in their behalf.
7. In New York, there is a legal requirement that before any medical malpractice lawsuit is started, that the family's attorney confirm there is a valid case by having a medical expert review the available records and confirm each element needed to start a lawsuit. In fact, when the lawsuit is actually started, the lawyer must prepare a document swearing that he has had the case reviewed by a medical expert who believes that there is a valid basis for this lawsuit.
DOESN'T THE VIDEO ALONE OF THIS WOMAN DYING IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM ESTABLISH THAT THE HOSPITAL WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR NEGLECT?
It may. But again, we, as the general public, are at a slight disadvantage to answering that question. Why? Because we don't have the benefit of reviewing the patient's medical records. We don't know if this patient had any other medical condition that may have caused or contributed to her death. We don't yet know what medications she was on, or whether anything she recieved in the hospital caused her untimely death. Nor, at this point, do we know whether this patient had an unfortunate and untimely heart attack or stroke or some other terrible event unrelated to what we all observed on the video.
However, having said that, it would appear on its' face that there's neglect in failing to respond to a patient who clearly needed help. A lawyer could always argue that "had she received prompt medical attention, more likely than not, this woman would be alive today." The pending autopsy will certainly help to answer the question of whether immediate medical attention would have changed this woman's outcome.
Another day, another tragedy.