Family Claims Lack of Attention at Hospital Caused Woman’s Death, Sues Under EMTALA

On Tuesday, a complaint was filed in the District of Puerto Rico by the Lopez-Vargas family against the Doctors Center Hospital at Bayamon and related parties, regarding their treatment of, and eventual death of Mrs. Juanita Vargas Rivera. The case alleged failure of care under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) as well as negligence and malpractice.

Ms. Vargas reportedly went to the hospital complaining of debilitating chest pain via ambulance. According to the timeline submitted by the plaintiff, she was not triaged until half an hour after arrival. Then, after that triage confirmed an urgent treatment status, she was not further evaluated, treated, or even observed properly, leading to her death sometime during the four hours after her arrival at the hospital.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) details a minimum standard of care that is required of all emergency departments participating in Medicare or Medicaid programs regarding patients that present at an emergency facilities, the complaint explained. This standard requires that the facility not turn patients away and as part of that standard provide a first response that includes a full screening. For the first circuit, the plaintiff points to the standard as “reasonably calculated to identify critical medical conditions that may be afflicting symptomatic patients and [to] provide[] that level of screening uniformly to all those who present substantially similar complaints.” The plaintiffs alleged that this level of screening would have easily caught Ms. Vargas’ cardiac condition, which could have saved her life, but at a minimum would have allowed treatment that would have prevented the pain conditions surrounding her death.

The plaintiffs sued for medical malpractice, failure to comply with hospital liability regulations, negligent supervision, negligent understaffing, wrongful death, and emotional distress for the family members who witnessed the treatment. They are represented by Philippe O. Beauchamp-Oliveras.