ER Death Points to Growing Wait-Time Problem

Family and doctors say deadly wait is an example of a nationwide problem.

ByABC News
September 25, 2008, 6:12 PM

Sept. 25, 2008 — -- With notoriously crowded U.S. emergency rooms, chances are most American families have a story of someone waiting. It could have been half a day for a sore throat or perhaps hours for stitches or a sprained ankle.

But for 58-year-old Michael Herrara of Dallas help never came. He died of a heart attack last week an estimated 19 hours after he arrived at Parkland Memorial Hospital's emergency room waiting room complaining of severe stomach pains, according to reports from WFAA News in Dallas.

Members of the Herrera family said they know they aren't alone in facing dangerously long emergency room waiting times in this country.

Emergency physicians say the problem is getting worse.

"He's not here because they let him die, pretty much," Edward Marquez, Herrara's nephew, told WFAA.

"That's awful to know that people are treated that way," he said. "If someone can be helped by this, I think he would be happy."

Representatives of Parkland Health & Hospital System said they are reviewing the case.

"It's important to also understand that, as with all emergency rooms, patients in Parkland's ER are treated based on the severity of their medical condition rather than the length of time they've waited to ensure that the most urgent cases receive proper attention," Dr. Ron J. Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Parkland Health & Hospital System wrote in a prepared press statement.

Anderson told WFAA he knew the medical team marked Herrara's symptoms as a "level 5" case, rather than the most urgent "level 1."

"This incident is a tragedy and our hearts are with the family," Anderson said. "We always strive to deliver the best care to all our patients."

Members of the American College of Emergency Physicians have long said emergency rooms across the country face a difficult problem: They want to provide the best care, but everybody is swamped.