'Ignored' patient sues Las Vegas hospitals

AP News
Posted: Dec 23, 2009 8:03 PM

A woman and her fiance filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against two Las Vegas hospitals, saying they were ignored in a hospital emergency room so long that they returned home where the woman gave birth to a premature baby who died.

Roshunda Abney, 25, and the father of the child, Rafinee Dewberry, 24, said their federal right to emergency medical treatment was violated. They seek unspecified damages for emotional distress from University Medical Center and Valley Hospital Medical Center.

Their lawyer, Jacob Hafter, said the couple had hoped to reach a financial settlement with the hospitals. Now, Hafter said, they want to take their case to a U.S. District Court jury in Las Vegas.

"They're devastated," Hafter said. "Their goal is to influence systemic change and get retribution for the harm that's occurred."

Spokeswomen for the two hospitals had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

County-owned UMC suspended six employees and officials promised to cooperate with internal and external investigations of the couple's claim that Abney was ignored after arriving at the emergency room shortly after 6 p.m. Nov. 30 with a complaint of severe abdominal pain.

Abney and Dewberry had no medical insurance. But the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, also known as the patient antidumping law, requires most hospitals to provide emergency attention to patients whether or not they have insurance or an ability to pay.

Hafter said others who were in the waiting room at the region's only public hospital have corroborated accounts by Abney and Dewberry that a hospital nursing supervisor refused their pleas for treatment.

Abney and Dewberry left a little before midnight and went to nearby Valley Hospital, where the lawsuit says they became discouraged and left after a staff member asked why they thought they would get prompt treatment if they had waited so long without treatment at UMC.

At home less than an hour later, Abney began giving birth to a breach baby. Paramedics took the mother and 1-pound, 6-ounce baby girl by ambulance to University Medical Center, where Abney and Dewberry were informed the child had been pronounced dead, according to the complaint. Results of a Clark County coroner's autopsy have not yet been made public.

Hafter last week accused UMC administrators and nursing officials of criminal neglect and involuntary manslaughter in the death of the child, who the couple called Angel.

The lawyer said Wednesday that Abney worked as a towing company customer service representative and Dewberry is a technician for AT&T. He said they've been too distraught since the baby's death to work.