When Daniela was diagnosed with the flu at an urgent care appointment in a trusted Kaiser hospital, her parents could never have imagined that an ambulance would be rushing their daughter to the emergency room only hours later.
10-year-old Daniela Zelig was full of excitement for life. She enjoyed every subject in school and dabbled in all kinds of sports – exploring every avenue of creativity and joy that a young person can. She was the center of the party, adored by her family and all who spent time in her presence.
When she came home from school feeling sick one afternoon, her mother, Linda brought her to an urgent care that same evening.
Their arrival at 6:45 PM meant that Daniela would be among the last of the patients before the facility closed at 8 PM.
When Daniela was finally seen, the doctor made it clear that she wanted to leave work right on time. When she used a stethoscope to listen to Daniela’s breathing, she did not bother to ask Daniela to remove her winter coat. Instead, she put the stethoscope against the thick material, listened, and concluded that Daniela was just suffering from the flu. With that, the doctor prescribed Tylenol and a nausea suppressant, reassuring them that her fever and vomiting were normal – that’s what you get with the flu.
Though the appointment felt rushed, Daniela’s mother trusted the doctor. Even as Daniela’s condition deteriorated throughout the night, the doctor’s words reassured Daniela’s increasingly concerned parents that her condition would only last for a couple of days.
But by the morning, Daniela had turned blue. She could hardly speak or walk. She was immediately rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
“They were trying to revive her in the ambulance,” recollects Dekel, Daniela’s father. “She was already almost gone by the time she got to the hospital.”
Daniela’s lungs were saturated with water. She had been suffering from pneumonia for days. Had the urgent care doctor properly listened to her breathing or taken precautionary steps like a blood test or an X-Ray, Daniela could have been given an antibiotic and would be continuing to explore her passions today.
When Dekel and Linda sought accountability for the substandard care that allowed their daughter’s condition to progress untreated, they were confronted by California’s 1975 law that limits compensation when a child dies because of medical negligence to a maximum $250,000.
They settled their case but the outdated cap – worth just $50,000 in today’s dollars – was not enough to incentivize the HMO to improve procedures or patient care. Dekel fears the same thing will happen to another child.
He is outraged by the law and a system that meant “no discipline for the doctor or for the HMO about guidelines—about rules about checking people right. Nothing was done. Nothing. Just another fine that is going in the drawers for someone while we lost our daughter.”
“How are we going to hold them accountable?” asks Dekel. He thinks the answer is to finally update California’s 45-year old cap on compensation for patients harmed by medical negligence.