District police and D.C. General Hospital officials said yesterday they are investigating the death of a 28-year-old Southwest Washington man who had a fatal heart attack Saturday after sitting in a patrol wagon for more than an hour outside the hospital waiting to be admitted.
Police spokesman Sgt. Joseph Gentile said, "The matter is under investigation. There are no additional statements to be made."
Dr. Marvin Barnard, acting director of the hospital's emergency care center, said he planned to "interview the people I am supervising and ask for written documentation since it is a problem case." However, he said, "I think from the documentation as I see it the medical personnel acted appropriately."
Police and hospital officials gave conflicting explanations Saturday for the delay in treating the man, Michael A. Reid of 11 Galveston Place SW. Gentile said hospital personnel told police that a "backlog" of patients would require them to "wait about an hour and 20 minutes."
"That definitely did not take place," Barnard said yesterday in reiterating the hospital's position.
The hospital's on-call administrator, Mehr Moradi, said Saturday that emergency room personnel were not informed of a patient waiting to be seen until 5:15 a.m., when police told an emergency room nurse that they had a man in a patrol wagon who did not appear to be breathing.
Reid was arrested on a misdemeanor bench warrant about 1:15 a.m. Saturday at an all-night dancing club at 21 Atlantic St. SW. Police did not say what Reid was charged with in the warrant.
Police said he tried to kick out the windows of a patrol car in which he was placed, and he was transferred to a patrol wagon and taken to the 7th District station for booking. Restraints were used on his arms and legs because he was kicking and fighting, police said.
Shortly before 4 a.m., Reid complained of pains in his arms and legs, Gentile said Saturday. Reid was handcuffed, placed in a patrol wagon and taken to D.C. General, arriving about 3:54 a.m.
However, Reid was kept in the patrol wagon and not seen by hospital personnel until "he was in full cardiac arrest," said Moradi.
According to Gentile, officers "kept checking on" Reid while he was in the patrol wagon.
Barnard said medical records indicated that Reid was received at 5:15 by the triage station, where patients are evaluated according to the severity and urgency of their medical problems. He was diagnosed as being in full cardiac arrest from that time until the time he was pronounced dead, about 30 minutes later.
An ambulance attendant familiar with D.C. General who asked not to be identified said waits of 30 to 40 minutes, and of as long as an hour, until patients are assessed by the triage station, are common at the hospital, particularly during busy periods such as Friday and Saturday nights.
"They will make you wait sometimes half an hour, sometimes more until they triage the patient," the attendant said. "The patient can be here right in their hall and their recordkeeping won't show that." The triage station makes the first record of a patient's arrival at the emergency room.
If the police arrived while the emergency room was busy, the attendant said, "A nurse would say, 'We're really swamped, can he hold a while?' If the patient's condition were not obvious, you might not be aware you have to get on the staff's case."
But Barnard said the emergency room early Saturday morning was "probably no busier than what it typically is" and "I do think you would not have to wait in terms of being triaged."