The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Death by health care cuts

Jun 18, 2007

On May 8, Edith Isabel Rodriguez, 43 years old, died outside the emergency room lobby of the King/Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles.

Earlier in the day, Rodriguez, doubled over with abdominal pain, had seen a doctor at the hospital, who had prescribed pain medication for gallstones. But as the pain got worse, Rodriguez returned to the emergency room over and over again, asking for another examination. The hospital refused, even after she fell to the floor, writhing in agonizing pain.

In desperation, Rodriguez’s boyfriend and another patient made separate phone calls to 911 for an ambulance, only to be refused. When sheriff’s deputies were called in, they ignored her, claiming that her cries for help were “loud and belligerent.” The deputies found an outstanding warrant on Rodriguez for an old parole violation, and placed her under arrest. She died as the sheriff’s deputies were getting ready to throw her in jail. The cause of death was a perforated bowel, which could have been repaired if she had been treated in time.

Once again came threats to close King/Harbor – as though the existence of the hospital is the problem.

No, the problem lies at the doorstep of the officials who have systematically gutted vital health care services for the poor and the uninsured, like Rodriguez. In five years’ time, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors closed 11 of the county’s 18 health centers and four school-based clinics, which together served 350,000 people each year. They cut 25% of the money to private clinics serving uninsured patients.

At Martin Luther King Medical Center they closed big parts of the hospital, including obstetrics, neonatal and the pediatrics wards. They even got rid of the trauma center.

In so doing, they signed a death warrant for many people exactly like Edith Rodriguez, people without any other access to medical care.

They may not have plotted to murder Rodriguez, but murder her they did.