A patient in the Vista Medical Center (Lake County, IL) emergency department waiting room died of a heart attack while waiting to be seen. The patient reportedly presented with shortness of breath and chest pain, was briefly triaged, and expired some time during a subsequent 2 hour wait to be seen by physicians.

In a startling decision, a coroner's jury investigating the case ruled
that her death was a homicide, which opens the door for criminal
prosecution.

"The definition of homicide that I give to the jury is either a willful
and wanton act or recklessness on the part of someone, whether that's
by their actions or by their inactions," [Dr. Richard] Keller [coroner of Lake County, Ill.] said. "Certainly, by
that definition, this is a homicide."

The hospital is not commenting on the ruling.

Coroner's juries have gone by the wayside in most U.S. jurisdictions, but they're still used in Illinois and Canada. Coroner's juries are supposed to determine the manner of death (the coroner typically rules on natural causes). The manner of death is a judgment on what brought about the cause
of death. Cause of death is predetermined
by the coroner's autopsy and is presented to the jury. The possible manners of
death include:

  • Natural Causes
  • Accidental Death: A death resulting from an accident or injury not
    intentionally caused by the deceased or by another.
  • Suicidal Death: A death resulting from the intent by the deceased to
    terminate his own life by any means.
  • Homicidal Death: A death that results from an accident or injury when:
    1. The injury was intentionally caused by another person to the
      deceased or,
    2. A person acts in such a willful and wanton (reckless) disregard for
      life that his/her actions are likely to cause death. (Manslaughter;
      Reckless Homicide). Reckless Homicide often includes the driving of a
      vehicle that causes a fatality while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Undetermined Death; If evidence as to the manner of death is unclear,
    or jurors cannot unanimously agree on a verdict.

(You can read about one person's experience on a coroner's jury here.)

Dr. Leigh Vinocur of the American College of Emergency Room Physicians is quoted, and the story is spun as an example of emergency department capacity problems nation-wide. If this was a symptom of ED overcrowding, we would hear about similar situations - thankfully we don't. This sounds like a tragic mistake, possibly exacerbated by overcrowding.