Patient left for hours in hallway of ‘overcrowded’ Hillsboro ER, mistakenly sent home with IV

Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 7:03 PM PDT
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WASHINGTON COUNTY Ore. (KPTV) - Hospital staffing shortages remain a critical issue in Oregon, as lawmakers consider a new bill that would require hospitals to maintain certain staffing levels or face harsher penalties and fines.

Stories about such shortages, as well as burnout among nurses and the overall impact on remaining healthcare workers, have been widely told – but it’s more unclear how patients caught up in the fray are faring.

One Washington County woman said her experience last year in the Hillsboro Medical Center’s emergency department left her feeling angry and traumatized.

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Maria Martinez said she was hit by a car in the Aloha Costco’s parking lot while she was working last spring.

“He hit me, I fell down,” Martinez said. “After that, I don’t remember anything.”

Martinez said she ended up in an ambulance, and was taken to the Hillsboro Medical Center, which according to the hospital’s website, is a “OHSU health partner.”

Once Martinez arrived at the hospital, she said she was left on a hospital bed in the ER’s back hallway for hours, with infrequent attention and unsure of what was happening.

Martinez said she was in pain, needing to use the restroom and left with her pants and underwear left down below her knees.

Martinez said she was eventually given an x-ray, which thankfully, revealed no broken bones. Then, still heavily under the influence of pain medication, Martinez said she was asked by a nurse to sign discharge papers and pointed toward the exit.

“All she says is ‘This is your note to get out of the hospital and this is the door,’” Martinez said. “And I said, ‘Somebody will not take care of me?’ and she said, ‘No, this is the door.’”

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With her husband abroad on a trip in Mexico, Martinez said she didn’t have anyone to pick her up, so her husband ordered her an Uber to return home, where she was met with another surprise.

“When I tried taking off my blouse, I saw this IV (in my arm) and I said, ‘Oh my god, what do I need to do now?’”

Martinez said her husband then called the hospital, and staff sent a cab to bring her back in.

Martinez said she was undressed when the driver showed up and missed her ride.

Eventually, she pulled the IV out herself using her teeth as one of the hospital’s doctors talked her through it over the phone.

“In that moment, I started crying and crying and crying,” Martinez said.

Looking back, Martinez said she’s not sure whether her case was just one bad day at the hospital or a common experience for patients amidst worker shortages in the healthcare industry.

Health experts said the shortage continues to be a major problem in Oregon, one that existed before the pandemic and became a full-blown crisis even after COVID-19 cases receded.

An Oregon Health Authority report published in October found more than 80% of Oregon hospitals were granted special waivers from OHA, allowing some units to skirt some aspects of state licensing rules for staffing requirements.

A survey put out this winter by the Oregon Nursing Association found fewer than 1% of respondents said their nursing units were adequately staffed.

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When it comes to the Hillsboro Medical Center, FOX 12 did reach out to hospital administrators regarding Martinez’s treatment.

A hospital spokesman said privacy laws prohibited the sharing of information about patient care, but FOX 12 did receive the following statement that reads in part:

“At the height of the public health emergency a year ago, hospitals and health systems across the state, including Hillsboro Medical Center, experienced high demands for emergency services and inpatient beds, which sometimes resulted in patients experiencing extended hospital stays and treatment in non-traditional settings like emergency department hallways. Regardless of care location, setting or public health circumstances, we have and will continue our commitment to provide safe, high-quality care and to respect all aspects and elements of patient privacy. We take patient safety concerns seriously and are continually looking for opportunities to improve.”

Hospital administrators did not answer FOX 12′s questions regarding discharge protocols and staffing levels at the hospital that day. However, Martinez shared letters and emails with FOX 12, showing months of correspondence between herself and hospital administrators regarding her time at the hospital.

One letter from the hospital’s president apologized to Martinez, including, “We understand clearly that our care did not meet your expectations regarding personal privacy, while care was delivered, pain control and discharge with your IV in place.”

The letter further assured that an investigation into the matter was completed and the president wrote in part, “I have been advised that all of the emergency department rooms were occupied at your time of arrival…Our staff at Hillsboro Medical Center, like at most hospitals in Oregon and in the U.S., continue to work very hard to provide necessary and appropriate care, while experiencing a very high number of emergency room patients, often resulting in patients in emergency room hallways or long wait times.”

The letter also said, “We have reminded staff about removal of patient IVs.”

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State records also paint a picture of the hospital facing other staffing troubles as recently as November.

A “nurse staffing” report sent to the Hillsboro Medical Center from OHA revealed an investigation stemmed from a staffing complaint about the hospital.

The report said OHA investigators found “One or more violations of Oregon administrative rules for nurse staffing services.”

More specifically, that the hospital failed to implement a “hospital-wide nurse staffing plan” and that “OHA previously cited the hospital for the noncompliance of this rule …in a complaint investigation initiated” back in 2019.

Another issue in the report said investigators found the hospital was not properly tracking meal and rest time breaks for staff.

Martinez said her injuries from the car crash still persist, but she is going to physical therapy for back pain and she hopes to soon return to work.

One place she said she’ll never go again is the Hillsboro Medical Center.

“I (do not) recommend nobody to go there,” Martinez said. “It was a big trauma for me.”