State of Emergency

WSVN — In New York a woman collapses and dies in an emergency room after waiting nearly 24 hours to be seen.

Michael Bloomberg, NYC Mayor: "I was horrified. Horrified is much too nice a word. Disgusted, I think is a better word."

A similar scene unfolds in an ER in Los Angeles. A woman lies dying on the floor of the lobby while the hospital staff ignores her.

911 Caller: "My wife is dying. The nurses don't want to help her out."

Could similar life or death situations happen right here in South Florida emergency rooms?

Spencer Aronfel, Attorney: "We're literally seeing patients who are being abandoned in the emergency room."

Attorney Spencer Aronfeld is representing Gonzalo Miranda. When Gonzalo suddenly became ill, his partner Manuel knew he needed emergency care.

Manuel Caballero: "He had this weird headache and he was complaining of a ringing in the ear. So, I told him let's go to the emergency room"

But, once they got there, they say they waited hours to see a doctor. As time passed, Gonzalo's condition got worse.

Manuel Caballero: "He vomited and fainted three times."

Gonzalo actually collapsed in the ER waiting room, still according to Manuel, the staff did nothing.

Manuel Caballero: "I was asking for help and the people were jumping over him, without helping him."

By the time Gonzalo did see a doctor it was too late. His attorney says too much time had passed to save him from a stroke.

Spencer Aronfeld: "There's a very small window of opportunity to prevent that stroke by getting a medicine called TPA, and had he gotten it in that window, he would have been fine."

Gonzalo Miranda: "I didn't get the help that I needed and time was of the essence."

Aronfeld says patients waiting too long in the ER is a problem facing hospitals across South Florida.

Spencer Aronfeld: "They're waiting not just 10, 15, 20 minutes, but three, four, five, eight hours, 24 hours to see a doctor, lives can be ruined."

Betty Lozano rushed her brother-in-law, Jorge, to the ER for severe stomach pain, last July. She says he too waited too long to be seen by hospital staff.

Betty Lozano: "Here's my brother-in-law crying, screaming, asking for help and in a lot of pain, and nothing happened ."

Spencer Aronfeld: "The records reflects that nobody came for hour after hour, until he ultimately has blood in his bowel and passes out."

Jorge did get a CT scan of his abdomen. His attorney says the ER staff diagnosed him with "gas". But, when that same scan was re-read more than 20 hours later, the staff realized he actually had a life-threatening condition.

Spencer Aronfeld: "It shows that his stomach is literally exploding and that he requires immediate surgery."

Almost 24 hours after he showed up in the emergency room, Jorge was rushed into surgery, but it was too late.

Betty: "He was in a coma for a whole month."

Dr. Andrew Bern, American College of Emergency Physicians: "Emergency departments are in a crisis situation."

A new study shows the majority of the nation's emergency departments are operating "at or over" capacity.

Dr. Andrew Bern: "We're overcrowded. We have a shortage of nurses. We have a shortage of physicians."

And in situations where minutes can mean life or death, emergency wait times are getting longer.

Dr. Andrew Bern: "There was a national study that talked about wait time, and they said that for someone who urgently needed to be seen within a minute, they said in Florida, it's taking 28 minutes on average."

Jorge and Gonzalo are now paying the price for their wait.

Jorge Lozano: "It's not human, not human. No heart."

For them life will never be the same.

Gonzolo: "Changed, changed for the worst because I have to rely for someone to do everything."

In a national report card on the state of emergency medicine in 2008 out of all the states in the US, Florida ranked last with a grade of "F" when it came to access to emergency care.