Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 | 5:09 p.m.
- UMC suspends 6 staff members pending investigation (12-11-2009)
An uninsured pregnant woman who went more than five hours without treatment while in labor in University Medical Center’s emergency room, and then lost her baby, filed a lawsuit against the hospital in federal court today.
Roshunda Abney and her fiancé Raffinee Dewberry did not know she was pregnant when she went to UMC the evening of Nov. 30, according to her attorney. But she was in extreme pain, and the couple urged hospital employees to provide her treatment.
After six hours, UMC employees told the couple that Abney was not going to be helped anytime soon, so they left and went to Valley Hospital & Medical Center. There, they allege, an employee was rude to them, giving them the impression that they would not receive care there either, the lawsuit said.
The couple went home, where Abney gave birth to Angel Dewberry. The baby girl, weighing 1 pound 6 ounces, was born at about 26 weeks of gestation.
The lawsuit alleges that UMC and Valley violated the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires facilities to provide emergency treatment without concern for a patient’s ability to pay. Attorney Jacob Hafter, who represents the woman, said the federal law does not protect the hospitals from any caps on damages that are present under state law.
“Now we have an ability for this community to hold UMC and Valley accountable for the full value of sitting there in active labor for six hours, being ignored and berated by UMC staff, and then losing your baby,” Hafter said.
According to the complaint, Abney was asked for her insurance information when she arrived at 5:25 p.m. Nov. 30 at the UMC Quick Care clinic on Craig Road in North Las Vegas. UMC is owned by the county and its mission includes providing care for the uninsured. She said she was uninsured, and the staff asked for an up-front fee. Abney said she had no money for the fee, and complained of abdominal pain that had lasted for two days and vaginal bleeding.
After 15 minutes, a doctor ordered a urinalysis and urine pregnancy test, but Abney was unable to urinate. She was transferred to UMC’s emergency room for “higher care,” the lawsuit says.
At about 6:10 p.m. Abney and Dewberry arrived at UMC, where she tried to provide the paperwork from the Quick Care. Employees in the emergency room refused to look at the paperwork, the lawsuit alleges.
Abney was asked if there was a chance she was pregnant, and she said that there was. At one point, she provided a urine sample that appeared to contain blood. When she was asked about her pain she said it was “the worst pain of her life and that she felt like she was going to die,” the lawsuit says.
Witnesses tried to get Abney medical attention, but they were told to mind their own business, the lawsuit says.
Abney and Dewberry left UMC at about 11:45 p.m.
At Valley, Abney was in too much pain to finish the paperwork, and Dewberry explained that they had been waiting for six hours at UMC without care.
The Valley employee responded by saying that if they had waited that long at UMC, what made them think it would be any faster at Valley, the lawsuit says.
The couple stopped at a drug store for pain medication before returning home. Abney’s water broke at home, and she saw the baby’s feet, the lawsuit says.
The couple called 911 and were rushed back to UMC, but the baby died.
At the hospital, the obstetrics nursing manager told Abney that the baby was non-viable, perhaps 21 weeks old, the lawsuit says. The manager said there was nothing UMC could have done and encouraged the couple to cremate the baby, the lawsuit says.
The couple had the coroner perform an autopsy and it suggested that the gestational age of the baby was 26 weeks, with an estimated margin of error of three weeks.
A toxicology examination of the baby found no drugs or alcohol in the baby.
The lawsuit alleges UMC and Valley violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act and inflicted emotional distress on Abney and Dewberry.
Brian Brannman, UMC's chief operating officer, said he could not comment for this story because of the litigation. Valley Hospital officials have not returned a request for a comment.