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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, April 24, 1959

April 24, 2009 |  2:00 pm

April 24, 1959, Paul Coates


Webster Wasn't Hep to County General

Paul_coatesWebster's, I admit, is pretty vague in defining the word "hospital."

The dictionary says: "An institution in which patients or injured persons are given medical or surgical care."

That plainly leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation.

Perhaps I'm an incurable romanticist, but for me the word almost always conjures up visions of Florence Nightingales in crisp starched uniforms.

And I see steely eyed surgeons. Confident Dr. Kildare types who can quote the Hippocratic oath at the drop of a suture.

But you'll notice I said "almost always."

There are other times when I consider the Los Angeles County General Hospital.

And I consider it often. Every time I get a telephone call or a letter from someone who's learned through painful experience how loosely Webster is translated by those who approve General Hospital's budget.

April 24, 1959, Cover I'll concede that some of the complaints I've received come from people who've suffered nothing more than imagined abuses.

But the one I heard yesterday can't be brushed off that lightly. It was made to me by a veteran newspaperman. A friend of mine and a guy I consider qualified as a competent observer. One who reports his facts accurately.

Last Tuesday he was called upon to take an elderly woman to General Hospital after she fractured her ankle.

He and the woman, who was in intense pain, arrived in the hospital's admitting room at 10:50 p.m. to find seven other patients waiting.

One man had apparently been scalded. Another was gashed across the eye. All appeared to require immediate care.

But for some reason that's not the way they do things at General.

Everyone, regardless of pain, was first required to take a chest X-ray.

April 24, 1959, Teller "Policy," an aide explained to the reporter. "For TB, you know."

Two hours and 15 minutes after admission, a sympathetic, overworked nurse finally manged to put aside clerical duties long enough to give the injured woman medication to ease the hurt.

In the interim, the patient was X-rayed again, this time for the ankle. The picture was taken by another overloaded member of the hospital staff, a technician working alone despite the fact that six well-equipped X-ray rooms went unused.

"They cut our staff," the nurse said. "And when we griped, they built another X-ray room."

The ankle X-ray was taken at 12:58 a.m.

Two hours and 17 minutes later, the reporter wanted to know why his charge hadn't received further treatment.

"I'm terribly sorry," the nurse replied, "but there isn't a doctor available to read the negatives and prescribe treatment."

Then at Long, Long Last

When a physician did arrive at 4 a.m., he was gentle, practiced and efficient. Within minutes the X-rays were read and those awaiting treatment cared for.

The reporter and the exhausted woman left the hospital at 4:45 a.m., 5 hours and 55 minutes after they'd entered.

But he couldn't leave behind a feeling of helpless indignation.

"I just wish," he told me, "that one of our county supervisors with a busted ankle had to rely on General Hospital for treatment. Then we'd get some action."