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Questions raised about hospital service in Baby Angel case

Although baby Angel Lorenzo Villareal, born Nov. 14 at mile marker 119 along U.S. 160, and his mom, Meeka Martinez, 19, are home and healthy, the question of why Martinez was allowed to leave Pagosa Mountain Hospital while in labor looms.

When Martinez, eight months pregnant at the time, began to not feel well while watching television at her mother’s house, she went to the emergency room at PMH.

What happened during Martinez’s brief stay at PMH did not impress her.

Martinez said that when she walked in and informed the employee at the emergency room desk that she was in labor, the employee “smiled and laughed” while telling another employee of the situation.

Martinez was then taken to a treatment room, where she was checked out and determined to be in labor, at 80 percent thinned out and dilated to four centimeters, by the physician on duty that night (later determined to be Matt Phillips, M.D.), she said.

Phillips then, addressing Martinez’s brother-in-law instead of Martinez, told the duo that there was no way to deliver the baby in Pagosa Springs, Martinez said.

When they questioned the doctor about the ability to deliver a baby at the hospital, citing prior births at the facility, Martinez said Phillips was “rude” about the fact that they could not deliver a baby in Pagosa.

Martinez was then told to head directly to Mercy Medical Center in Durango without making any stops.

Martinez said she was never offered an ambulance to make it to Durango, but was simply given written orders to go directly to Mercy.

Martinez then called her friend, Donna Rivas, who was at work, asking for a ride to Durango.

Rivas, who was not privy to Martinez’s pregnancy, told Martinez she would be able to help after work, but after receiving a text from Martinez’s brother-in-law telling Rivas that Martinez was in labor, Rivas and her husband obliged and picked Martinez up from the hospital and set out for Durango.

But, when Martinez told Rivas the baby was coming, Rivas made the decision to pull over and call 911.

After Rivas was instructed to drive to the next mile marker, 119, in order to give emergency personnel an exact location, Angel made his appearance before ambulances from Bayfield and Pagosa could reach the scene.

Aided by Archuleta County dispatcher Carl Nevitt, Archuleta County Sheriff Deputy Devonne McBride (who arrived merely minutes before the birth), and Rivas, Martinez successfully gave birth to her son at 12:36 a.m., with emergency personnel arriving soon after.

Martinez was then taken to Mercy Medical Center.

According to PMH Chief Executive Officer Brad Cochennet, no PMH policy prevents the delivery of babies at PMH. He said that physicians at the facility use their judgement as to what would be the best care for the mother in labor.

In this particular case, he said the judgement was made that the best care could be received at Mercy and that the mother would be able to make the trip before giving birth.

“We were wrong,” Cochennet said of the determination.

“We typically don’t deliver babies, but there is a need to take care of mothers in labor the best we possibly can,” Cochennet said, adding, “We want the best care for the mother.”

Cochennet also assured SUN staff that the fact that Martinez was uninsured at the time of her visit to PMH was not a factor in the decision to send Martinez to Mercy.

“We completely ignore the patient’s ability to pay,” Cochennet said, adding that financial issues are dealt with after the fact. “There’s no financial reason; it’s a medical decision.”

“We treat everyone who comes in the emergency room emergently and we are happy to do so,” Cochennet said.

randi@pagosasun.com