Burbank’s Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center ER:
Patient Care or Neglect?
Despite a plethora of Wrongful Death and Medical Malpractice Lawsuit, Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank Remains a Death Trap
By Vic Gerami
What happens when a community hospital’s ER is in disarray and mistreats patients? What does one do when that hospital is the closest to one’s residence? Therefore, ambulances are obligated to take you there instead of a better hospital? What happens when countless people die at that hospital due to malpractice and negligence that trigger lawsuits and bad press, but nothing changes?
I had never called the paramedics until a few weeks ago. Still, I had been to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank sixteen years ago and had a terrible experience. I vowed never to go there again.
Then, about a month ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, violently ill, with uncontrollable shakes, chills, and severe diarrhea with blood. I spent five hours in bed trying to get warm and stop the shaking but to no avail. I had paralyzing fatigue and could barely get to my phone to call a physician’s assistant friend, who was especially alarmed by the bleeding and advised me to call the paramedics.
No Choice, No Luck
I told her that the paramedics would likely take me to St. Joe’s as it’s the closest hospital to home and told her about my past bad experience. She said that I had been dehydrated due to the diarrhea and needed to be connected to IV drips. She convinced me that the ER had been remodeled and to give them another chance.
With worsening symptoms, desperate for an answer, I was out of options, so I called the paramedics, and they took me to St. Joe’s ER. Unlike other times, the ER seemed very calm as nurses and doctors sat in their stations talking.
Patient or an Inconvenience?
After the paramedics brought me to the ER, I was held on the gurney in the hallway for about an hour. Then, they told me to sit and wait in the waiting room, although I could barely sit up. Another hour passed when I was finally placed in a cold room and left there. I figured they would start pumping fluid into my system due to my symptoms, but I didn’t even see a nurse for another hour. Shaking with chills in the cold room, I walked to the nurses’ station and asked a nurse if she could make my room warmer. A gentleman, who I later learned was Dr. Chance Anderson, abrasively interrupted me and said that ‘temperatures are centrally controlled.’ Barely able to stand, I returned to my room to lie down, hoping that a nurse would come over soon. Another forty-five minutes passed, but no one came, and the cold became unbearable. So, I mustered all the energy I had left and walked back to the nurses’ station. I told another nurse that I was freezing. Still sitting there, Dr. Anderson gave me the look of death for daring to bring up my cold room again after he dismissed me. His demeanor became even more hostile when the nurse said she’d bring me two warm blankets. Why the warm blankets were not offered earlier is still a mystery, but I was grateful for this nurse getting them for me.
Doctor with a Chip on His Shoulder
I had been in the ER for over four hours but had not been visited by a doctor. A while later, the nurse took blood samples, and someone came to take a chest X-ray. Finally, after six hours of being in the ER, I got to see a doctor, who happened to be Dr. Anderson. The doctor came to my room without introducing himself, greeting me, or anything else, befitting bedside manners. He was cold and spoke with an antagonistic tone. He read my lab results and said that I did not have COVID-19 and that my x-ray showed nothing unusual. He was there for less than three minutes, then proceeded to discharge me without explaining why I was sick, possible causes, or how to treat my relentless symptoms.
A friend I had called to pick me up from the ER was stunned that I was discharged in that state. I had achieved nothing in six hours of being in the ER except to get mistreated and dismissed. St. Joe’s did not abide by its claimed values of ‘compassion, dignity, justice, excellence, and integrity.’ When I finally got home after the harrowing ordeal at St. Joseph’s ER, my symptoms were significantly aggravated, and I had not been given any recommendation for any relief after hours of needless aggravation and hardship at the ER piled on my illness which had prompted me to seek relief at the hospital, to begin with. This was blatant medical neglect, maltreatment, and magnified suffering in a hostile, impersonal, denigrating environment with an attending ER physician who treated my illness and debilitating symptoms like a burden and a waste of his time and a complete sham of an ER.
Following my ordeal at St. Joe’s, I was treated by a private physician’s assistant (PA) who was covering for my physician, who was on vacation—in a couple of minutes and a few questions, she diagnosed me with a gastrointestinal infection. Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestines. A virus, bacteria, or parasite can cause gastroenteritis. When a bacterium causes it, it’s known as bacterial gastroenteritis. Bacterial gastroenteritis is a significant health risk. This is because you can get dehydrated from vomiting, diarrhea, and blood loss through the stool. The PA prescribed me an antibiotic and set me up for recovery. Why Dr. Anderson didn’t do this is both puzzling and alarming.
Bill for What?
My bill for six hours at St. Joe’s ER without any resolution was $9,439.95. St. Joe’s website states, ‘Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center is committed to providing compassionate, reliable and safe care.’ This is a great line if it wasn’t rhetoric, as the hospital failed me on all three points. At least two Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) were violated in six hours. I was not offered a timely and appropriate medical screening exam. Nor was I stabilized before discharge.
Risk Management, NOT Patient Care
Once I started feeling better, I wrote a letter to the hospital’s CEO, Karl Keeler, Director of Patient Relations, Jamie Rugel, and a few other executives, describing my experience at their ER. None of them reached out to me. Instead, I received a call from Anita Aragon, the hospital’s Director of Risk Management, despite mentioning in my letter that I’m not litigious and wanted Mr. Keeler to know what happens at his ER. The final slap in the face was receiving a call from risk management instead of the medical side. Hospital risk managers help the facility prevent or mitigate any financial losses. In other words, they work on lawsuit prevention. They may pretend to care about a patient’s experience, but their sole responsibility is to defend the hospital and proactively deny and dismiss the patient’s concerns. Ms. Aragon claimed to have investigated my experience at the ER. Still, true to form by a ‘risk management’ representative, she denied my claims and defended the hospital while not answering my specific and pointed questions. Instead, she offered me $150 off my bill. I was not surprised.
And the Band Plays On…
St. Joe’s bad reputation is not a secret in the community or the medical establishment. The hospital has a rating of 2.8. A simple Google search brings up a plethora of lawsuits by patients against St. Joe’s, including the malpractice suit that actor John Ritter’s family brought against the hospital, which was later settled. With most things, a consumer can choose where to take their business, whether it’s a department store, car dealership, hair salon, etc. But one doesn’t always have a choice when it comes to hospitals. Aside from ambulances being obliged to take you to the closest ER, doctors often have contracts with nearby hospitals should a patient require further medical care.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If this level of undignified service is provided at even the most mediocre restaurant or any other business, not only would the customers not be charged, but they would also be given vouchers and apologies to avoid devastating reviews, loss of customers, and bad press. Hospitals should be held to at least the same standards. So, I’ll ask my question again. What does one do if the community hospital is dysfunctional?