Ambulance crew faulted in dispute with pregnant woman

February 15, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- A preliminary investigation into the case of a pregnant woman whose baby died shortly after birth on Sunday found that Emergency Medical Service workers violated rules on medical procedure, city officials said yesterday.

The workers failed to perform an initial assessment of the woman's condition when they arrived, and then had her walk to the ambulance -- both violations of standard practice in such cases, officials in the mayor's office said.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also ordered the city's Department of Investigation to examine the case, including whether a dispute between the crew and the woman over which hospital she wanted to go to delayed her arrival at the hospital.

Officials at EMS and the hospital where the baby died said it was not possible to say whether a delay in transporting the woman, Tracy Ortega, 24, of Queens, to the hospital might have contributed to the death of the baby. The infant died minutes after being delivered by emergency Caesarean section.

Stephen Phelps, spokesman for St. John's Queens Hospital, said, "The cause of death is known but cannot be released because of privacy."

He reiterated the statement of Dr. Inok Rhee, Ms. Ortega's obstetrician, who said on Sunday that if in fact there was a delay, it was not possible to know if "it had any effect on the outcome for the baby."

The Medical Examiner's office said it would be up to the family to decide whether to have an autopsy performed.

Ms. Lategano said the formal investigation was also prompted by the length of time it took for Ms. Ortega to be transported to the hospital.

A chronology of the case showed that 55 minutes elapsed between the time the call was placed saying that Ms. Ortega was in labor and when she arrived at St. John's Hospital at 3:59 a.m. Sunday.

The chronology shows that the ambulance was at Ms. Ortega's house for 20 minutes before it left for St. John's Hospital.

During that time, according to Ms. Ortega's father and city officials, EMS and Ms. Ortega argued about which hospital she would go to. The EMS crew wanted to take her to the New York Hospital Medical Center in Queens because it is the closest hospital to her house, but Ms. Ortega wanted to go to St. John's because that is where her doctor is based.

EMS rules say patients can choose to be transported to a hospital other than the closest facility as long as it is not more than 10 minutes away from the closest hospital. Travel time between the two hospitals involved in this case is about six minutes.

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