A New York hospital is instituting immediate changes in light of a video circulating the world showing a new low of indifference toward those in need.
The surveillance camera video tells the story.
A woman sits alone on a chair in the psychiatric ward of Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn. She slumps onto the floor, writhes and dies. Patients sit nearby.
A guard is seen on camera glancing at the woman from his rolling chair. No one moves to help her, not the patients sitting nearby, not the hospital staff who passed her prone body at least three times.
Esmin Green, 49, had been in the emergency room for about 24 hours when she finally fell face down on the floor of the hospital, June 19, at 5:32 in the morning. She stopped moving about a half hour after she collapsed.
An hour later someone on the medical staff finally attends to Green, at first to see if she can be awakened, then summons someone wearing a white lab coat.
Green had been involuntarily committed to the hospital ward the previous morning and was waiting for a bed.
The glaring example of human indifference toward another human caught on camera has sparked action. The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation that runs the hospital says it has fired six people, including security guards and members of the staff.
Before a federal judge Tuesday, hospital representatives and advocates for the mentally ill agreed to a series of reforms so this doesn’t happen again. Patients in the waiting room will be checked every 15 minutes. No one will have to wait more than 10 hours. The hospital has agreed to that stipulation over the next four months.
Kings County Hospital has already been on the hot seat for its treatment of the mentally ill. A state agency and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit a year ago citing the psychiatric unit as “a chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger.”
"The reason why this woman died the way she did was that there is a culture of indifference that permeates every aspect of KCHC psychiatric care, nothing short of that," said Robert Cohen, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis Llp, which with NYCLU brought the lawsuit, tells Newsday.
Health and Hospitals Corporation President Alan Aviles in a statement said he was shocked and distressed and promises a more thorough investigation.
This is the second story of indifference toward those most in need in the news this week.
Five Palm Beach, Florida hospitals were cited for refusing emergency care patients. The three hospitals above were among five hospitals in Palm Beach County that received citations last year for violating a federal law to prevent patient dumping. The hospitals denied treatment of about 30 patients emergency specialty care that they could have provided.
The hospitals said they were too busy or did not have the emergency room specialists that patients needed.
In the 1960s a young woman named Kitty Genovese was murdered by a man who raped and stabbed her repeatedly for half an hour in front of 38 residents of a respectable New York City neighbourhood. No one helped. Finally one person called the police, after she was dead.
This incident prompted a flood of research into what became known as the ‘bystander effect’ which examined why people don’t intervene when others are in pain or in danger.
Psychologist Celia Kitzinger, who teaches psychology at the University of Loughborough, England, writes that people are uncertain how to behave because a) they are unsure about what they are seeing, and b) they conform with the behavior of others who are also unsure.
Moral behavior is a social not an individual issue, she says.
“In thinking about why people fail to offer help, why they behave punitively, or why they inflict pain on others, we often resort to explanations which depend on individual characteristics – their personal religious beliefs, their capacity for empathy, their understanding of moral principles, or the kind of upbringing they had. But these explanations overlook the key role of social context. The frightening truth uncovered by these classic psychological studies is that it is not too difficult to set up situations in which most of us behave worse than we could have thought possible, out of conformity, fear of what others might think, loss of individual identity or obedience to authority.”
The Green story is not over. Indications are that someone tried to cover-up the circumstances of her death. One notation in her record says that at 6 a.m. she is “awake, up and about” and had used the restroom. It says that at 6:20 she had normal blood pressure. Green was actually dead or dying.
The Green death tape has been turned over to prosecutors.
The city has agreed to fly her body to Jamaica, where she was born, for burial. #