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Gambling with Children

Kaiser says its new hospital in Oakland offers first-rate services, but critics say the healthcare giant's decision to close pediatric care facilities in the East Bay has had grave consequences.



When Andrea Olguin lifted her six-month-old daughter from her cradle, she immediately knew something was wrong. It was just after midnight on April 4, and Olguin, who had just finished her shift at the Hayward FoodMaxx, did not expect to find Jenevieve completely stiff and staring at her with wide, blank eyes.

Olguin woke her mother and they immediately took Jenevieve's temperature. It was 104 degrees. The combination of the stiffness, blank stare, and high temperature convinced Olguin and Jenevieve's father, Ferdinand Dagatan, that the little girl was having a seizure.

The family rushed Jenevieve to the emergency room at the Kaiser Hayward Medical Center. Medical staff stabilized Jenevieve's seizure, but the baby's other symptoms — fever, loose stools, and vomiting — persisted. Olguin and Dagatan watched as some of the nurses struggled to insert an IV into the baby's body. The medical staff on duty ordered a blood culture and X-ray, but the tests would take time.

Olguin repeatedly asked Kaiser staffers why her daughter had suffered a seizure, but she said they didn't give her any answers. Both Olguin and Dagatan said in a recent interview that they felt "brushed off" by the Kaiser medical staff. The couple said that during the three hours they were in the emergency room they only saw a doctor twice, and did not see a physician before the hospital discharged Jenevieve. Their baby also was never examined by a pediatrician. Just after 4:30 a.m., the hospital sent Olguin, Dagatan, and Jenevieve home with a small package of over-the-counter Tylenol, some ibuprofen, and Pedialyte.

At roughly 7 a.m., Olguin and Dagatan were startled awake by what they said was "a high pitched grunting sound" coming from Jenevieve's cradle. They checked on the baby and discovered that her lips had turned blue. They rushed her back to Kaiser Hayward Medical Center, and according to Olguin and Dagatan, the care their daughter received "was a mess."

A purple rash was forming rapidly on Jenevieve's body, and her screaming had intensified. As with their first visit, Olguin and Dagatan watched medical staffers struggle to insert an IV line in their daughter. "It got really chaotic," Dagatan recalled. "They didn't know what they were up against."

Olguin and Dagatan watched nervously as doctors in the emergency room tried to figure out what was happening to Jenevieve. Olguin continued to ask them why Jenevieve's neck was jerking and why she was scratching her face, but failed to get satisfactory answers, hearing only that the little girl was "just scared."

From the time Jenevieve was admitted to the hospital at around 8:30 a.m. to the time the transport team arrived at 12:40 p.m. to take Jenevieve to Kaiser's pediatric unit in Oakland, the little girl's rash had become so severe that she was nearly unrecognizable. "She was having a purple rash right in front of them and they couldn't help me," Olguin recalled. "I literally felt like I was holding my baby and wasting time."

The ambulance that would take Jenevieve to Oakland arrived with a Kaiser pediatrician and a pediatric nurse who immediately examined the little girl — four hours after she was admitted to the Hayward hospital for the second time, and about twelve hours after she had first arrived at Kaiser. The pediatric medical staffers told Olguin and Dagatan that Jenevieve was suffering from Meningiccocal Neissiea, commonly known as bacterial meningitis, a dangerous disease that can quickly turn fatal if not treated with antibiotics.

By the time Jenevieve had reached the Kaiser Oakland Medical Center's pediatric intensive care unit, her organs were failing. Shortly thereafter, she slipped into a coma.

Eight days later, Jenevieve was dead.

Last November, roughly five months before Jenevieve died, Kaiser Permanente closed its pediatric inpatient care unit in Hayward, leaving the little girl's parents and an estimated 100,000 other families in southern and central Alameda County without a pediatrics hospital near their homes. The healthcare giant decided to consolidate its pediatric care services at its new Oakland facility — a move that means parents must now get their children to Oakland to receive proper care.

Kaiser's decision to eliminate pediatric services in central and southern Alameda County has drawn widespread criticism from nurses, politicians, and East Bay residents who contend that the healthcare giant has prioritized cost savings over the needs of young patients and is gambling with kids' lives.

For their part, Kaiser officials maintain that their new state-of-the-art facility in Oakland provides better pediatric care overall than what the nonprofit had offered before. Kaiser officials also contend that some of the criticism they have received is part of a nurse's union campaign for a better contract and increased staffing.

However, for parents like Olguin and Dagatan, Kaiser's decision to shutter pediatric units in the East Bay has had grave consequences. The healthcare giant's decision requires physicians in hospitals outside of Oakland who are inexperienced in pediatric care to now make life-or-death decisions about how to properly treat seriously ill children who show up in the ER.

Indeed, nurses and officials from the California Nurses Association say that Jenevieve's death was directly related to this absence of pediatric expertise in Hayward. "I'm not an I-told-you-so type of person; I don't want to be right about these types of things," said Kristine Richter, a nurse who worked in the Kaiser Hayward pediatrics unit before it closed. "But this is exactly what we were worried about — these types of things happening."


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