Man dies in Portland Adventist Medical Center parking lot

Although officials say the man made it to within 150 feet of the Emergency Department door – it wasn’t close enough. Read how police officers tried to save the man’s life before the ambulance arrived – and, in-depth comments by AMC’s top emergency doctor …

We may never know why a 61-year-old man in medical distress drove into the parking garage near Portland Adventist Medical Center – instead up to the front doors.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In the early morning hours of February 10, an outer East Portland resident was feeling ill, and drove himself to Portland Adventist Medical Center.

The man, later identified by police as 61-year-old Birgilio Marin-Fuentes, apparently didn’t know he was having a heart attack. Had he made it to the front door, he most likely would have been whisked away to the hospital’s state-of-the-art Cardiac Care Pavilion by way of their newly expanded Emergency Department, opened just last year. (These hyperlinks will take you to our stories that covering the two openings.)

Instead, police believe Marin-Fuentes drove into the parking garage, immediately north of the Emergency Department, and was no longer able to stop as he approached the end of the structure’s ground floor. The car crashed into a pillar and wall at the garage’s end, under a sign that directs visitors to the Emergency Department.

By some reports, Marin-Fuentes’ car came to rest between 125 and 150 feet from the door of the Emergency Room.

On the lower level of this parking structure, a police officers, joined by ambulance and Portland Fire & Rescue medics, work to save a man’s life.

“A Portland Police Officer informed us of a car accident in our garage that we believe occurred at least 20 minutes prior [to this incident],” Judy Lindsay Leach Director, Marketing, Adventist Medical Center, released in a prepared statement. “We advised the officer to immediately call 911, because EMS has the mobile equipment to respond to a car accident.”

In fact, the officer, identified as Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Officer Angela Luty, was notified by a passerby and did call in the report at 12:47 a.m., as she rushed back to the Emergency Department (ED) doors.

She soon was joined by other East Precinct officers, including Officer Andrew Hearst – who used his “pac set” portable police radio to contact the 911 dispatch center, sounding troubled and concerned: “Hospital said they won’t come out; we need to contact AMR [American Medial Response ambulance] first.”

Sounding frustrated, Hearst asked dispatch to double check, and the 9-1-1 dispatcher confirmed that the incident was to be handled by the paramedics that had been dispatched to the scene.

Had the heart-attack victim made it to these doors in a timely way, his life might have been saved.

Luty was joined by East Precinct Officer Robert Quick; working together they began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Marin-Fuentes, as they awaited assistance. About six minutes after the originating radio call, an ambulance rolled into the parking structure; a Portland Fire & Rescue truck pulled in a minute later.

About nine minutes into the event, Marin-Fuentes was wheeled, on an AMR gurney, into the Emergency Department – where the Portland Adventist Medical Center took over resuscitation efforts. Records show that Marin-Fuentes was pronounced dead at 1:22 a.m.

Judy Lindsay Leach Director of Marketing with Adventist Medical Center speaks on behalf of the hospital. East Portland News archive photo

Questions arise about hospital’s procedures
About the incident, AMC’s Leach stated, “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 gunshot wounds, heart attacks, or any other medical emergency. We have done so many times in the past year, alone.”

Leach added, “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.”

Reports catch Rep. Blumenauer’s attention
Responding to news of the event, Congressman Earl Blumenauer issued a statement the said, in part, “I am deeply disturbed by media reports that a critically ill man was denied timely care as he died of a heart attack in the Portland Adventist Hospital’s parking lot.

“If these reports are true, 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. If the police statements are correct, this incident defies common sense, and it may well defy federal law.”

The hospital’s Vice Chair of Emergency Services, Dr. Kelli Westcott, MD, welcomes guests to grand reopening of their Emergency Department in 2010. East Portland News archive photo

Emergency physician defends hospital’s actions
The following day, Dr. Kelli Westcott, Vice Chair of Emergency Services at Portland Adventist Medical Center, spoke with KPAM 860’s Victoria Taft Show about the incident.

Westcott reiterated Leach’s statement that Portland Adventist Medical Center does not have a policy against responding to emergencies in the parking lot, or anywhere else on the hospital’s campus.

Portland police officers had already activated the EMS system before they came in to the Emergency Department Westcott said, and informed them that there was a car accident in the garage.

When the Emergency Room staff was notified, “ …that staff member was calling the charge nurse in the back of the Emergency Department,” Westcott told Taft’s listeners. “Probably the police officer could not see what was happening in the back of the Emergency Department to mobilize resources, what we do every time. In this case they were fortunate enough that there was a paramedic that just brought another patient to the Emergency Department standing right at the desk of the charge nurse, and basically, volunteered to immediately go out and assist at the scene.”

The ED staff also alerted their security staff, who Westcott said were “first responders” and carry an AET [Automatic External Defibrillator] on their rig and are CPR-trained. They headed out there. Then we mobilized our nursing staff to go out there as well.”

Here in the AMC’s Emergency Department, staff were working behind the scenes, Dr. Westcott says preparing to help the patient they believed was suffering from trauma from a car crash. East Portland News archive photo

According to some news reports, it appeared as if the hospital were unresponsive to the incident.

“Hospital staff may have come out to the garage,” PPB’s Public Information Officer, Lieutenant Kelli Sheffer told us. “They may have come out, but the officers were not aware of anyone coming out.”

Why not wheel out a gurney?
Taft asked why the ED staff didn’t just wheel a gurney out and pick up the stricken man. Westcott responded, “Officers reported to us that this is a traffic accident; a vehicle that it crashed into a pole in our parking lot. We knew immediately that it was a trauma patient. In the case of caring for a trauma patient, you need to not just have a human being, or just a gurney, to take care of them.

“You need to make sure that you have the equipment you need to extricate the patient from the car, have a back board, a cervical collar, and that sort of thing … whether it is on the medical campus, or on the side of the freeway, you need extra tools in place to safely extricate, stabilize, and transport that person to the emergency department.”

About the “timeline” of the incident, Westcott added that hospital staff spent a “fair amount of time” looking over the recordings made by campus’s many security video cameras. “It looked like he’d pulled into, and kind of crashed into, the parking spot over 20 minutes before he was noticed by a passerby, going through the parking garage, to be unconscious in the vehicle.”

Congressman calls for investigation
At deadline time, Congressman Earl Blumenauer hadn’t updated his statement, in which he called for an “independent investigation of this matter to ensure that federal laws are enforced and Oregonians are protected. In the meantime, it is important that every hospital in Oregon understand its moral and legal obligations.”

“We didn’t understand [Blumenauer’s] early response to the issue,” stated Westcott. “We spent a lot of time on the phone today sharing the facts with him. We’re giving him the details and the timeline of the situation. We believe he now has a better understanding of what has happening.”

Police bureau officials meet with hospital staff at Adventist Medical Center to discuss distressing events that took place on their campus.

Police meet with hospital officials
Lt. Sheffer told us that the police met with the Adventist Medical Center staff on February 11. “We discussed the events surrounding this incident. We also reaffirmed our commitment to working closely with all Portland metro area hospitals to include Portland Adventist Hospital.”

Because of the public interest in this incident, Sheffer said, the Bureau anticipates making all of the associated police reports available to the public next week.

“We’re proud of the efforts of all the officers involved in this incident,” Sheffer was quick to point out,  “particularly Officers Angela Luty and Robert Quick, for their selfless actions in attempting to save Mr. Marin-Fuentes’ life. They did a great job; they didn’t give up.”

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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