Woman who says she was ignored sues hospitals

A federal lawsuit was filed today against University Medical Center and Valley Hospital on behalf of a Las Vegas woman who gave birth at home after she said emergency room personnel at both hospitals refused to provide her treatment.

Attorney Jacob Hafter filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, which largely repeats claims the baby’s parents, Roshunda Abney and Raffinee Dewberry, made to the Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier this month — that they arrived at UMC on Nov. 30 and waited for six hours without being treated despite Abney’s complaints about abdominal pain and repeated attempts by Dewberry and others in the waiting room to get UMC personnel to come to Abney’s aid.

They then went to nearby Valley Hospital, where they said they told officials of Abney’s condition. They said they were treated rudely and hospital staff suggested they could face a similar wait there.

Believing they wouldn’t get help, the couple said they left Valley and purchased over-the-counter pain medication for Abney. Within 20 minutes of arriving home on Dec. 1, she gave birth to a baby girl. The baby, Angel Dewberry, died.

Hafter claims the hospitals violated the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and failed to properly screen Abney. The lawsuit also seeks damages for emotional distress allegedly suffered by both Abney and Dewberry.

Abney has told the Review-Journal that she didn’t know she was pregnant. Danita Cohen, a spokeswoman for UMC, said hospital officials could not comment on the case because of the litigation.

On Dec. 10, UMC officials moved to fire six employees involved in the case. The six, whose names were not released, were suspended pending termination proceedings.

Kathy Silver, the hospital’s chief executive officer, said the investigation was ongoing and more employees could be disciplined.

Kenneth Webster, an attorney for Valley Hospital, said in an e-mail today that Valley “categorically denies the allegations in the recently filed lawsuit as those allegations pertain to Valley Hospital and its staff.”

“At no time was Ms. Abney discouraged from seeking medical treatment at Valley Hospital, nor was she denied a medical examination,” Webster wrote. “Ms. Abney and Mr. Dewberry abandoned any alleged request to be seen at Valley Hospital when they voluntarily chose to leave the facility after a matter of only a few minutes, without providing even their names or any description of a physical complaint.”

The lawsuit alleges that “Valley’s failure to appropriately screen and treat Abney are even more egregious” than what happened at UMC because the emergency room staff there “had the chance to identify and correct the failures of UMC.”

Instead of helping Abney, the suit alleges, the “unprofessional remarks” by Valley staff “created a hole in the safety net that lead to the traumatic breach delivery.”

The suit said a preliminary autopsy report by the Clark County coroner’s office placed the baby’s age at birth at 26 weeks, plus or minus three weeks. The baby weight 1 pound 6 ounces.

A spokeswoman for the coroner’s office told the Review Journal recently that investigators would not comment on the autopsy and would not disclose when an official finding would be made as to whether the baby was born alive. In the suit, Hafter said that after paramedics helped with the breach birth, “the baby took a few spontaneous respirations and then went into distress.”

Paramedics, the suit alleges, “began emergency neonatal resuscitation.” A spokesman for MedicWest, the ambulance service which came to Abney’s aid, recently told the Review Journal he could not comment on the case.

Before going to UMC, Abney first went to a UMC Quick Care for her pain. She was transferred to UMC after physician Nickolas Karajohn noted on her chart that she needed to go there for “higher care.” Karajohn “spoke to UMC’s ER regarding the transfer,” the lawsuit states.

When Abney arrived, the lawsuit states, she was asked by UMC personnel whether there was a chance she could be pregnant. She answered that there was, Hafter wrote.

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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