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Her Name was Esmin Green

July 4, 2008

Esmin Green sang gospel music at church. Esmin Green was a mother with six children. Esmin Green was a black woman who died on the floor of one of New York City’s public hospitals while waiting for psychiatric care and being ignored.

No, it’s not the first time somebody has died waiting for treatment in a hospital emergency department, but it should serve as a wake-up call for those not paying attention. Esmin Green collapsed on the floor after waiting almost a full day to be seen. Nobody noticed for half an hour, and that person just walked away. Another staff member, instead of bending down and saying, “Ma’am, ma’am,” instead of talking to her or touching her like she was a human being, prodded her with a foot.

Her patient record contains absolute falsehoods, documentation that she went to the bathroom, that she was sitting quietly, when videotape clearly shows that she was already collapsed on the floor.

Part of the Kings County Hospital Center’s response strategy will be to check in on patients more frequently and document those checks. How well can such documentation be trusted when documentation on Esmin Green contained outright lies?

How many people weren’t satisfied by reading accounts of this event, and just had to watch the video themselves out of morbid curiosity, not out of compassion for Esmin Green?

The public reaction hasn’t always been any better than Kings County’s care in this case. I have seen comments asking where her family was, asking why she didn’t just leave, why other people who were not healthcare providers and were also waiting for psychiatric care didn’t help her – comments that put the blame on her and everyone but the responsible system and parties for dying on the floor, alone. Reports say that Esmin Green was involuntarily admitted in the first place – the hospital determined that she was in need of care, and should not leave without receiving it, they just hadn’t provided any. Frankly, how much of an asshole do you have to be to say that someone waiting in an emergency department for psychiatric care should have been the one to control the situation? How much of an asshole do you have to be to see video of someone dying on the floor in a public area and being ignored and to not see that something went seriously wrong with the people and system who were supposed to be providing her with care?

What if Esmin Green wasn’t a poor woman? A black woman? A woman with mental health problems? A woman who needed to use the public hospitals, which should not be providing substandard care just because they serve poor/black/mentally ill people? If I asked you, “Where do you think this is more likely to happen – the private hospital in a good part of town, or the public hospital that takes everybody?” what would you say? And why would that answer ever be appropriate? Is this the best we can do for our fellow Americans? Or is it just the best we’re willing to do?

Ask yourself: If your white, male Mayor or city council members or university president collapsed on the floor of a hospital, would he have been ignored? Would poking him with a shoe have been an adequate assessment technique? Or would a team of people have swooped in to save the day (and the life)? Would our hypothetical person of privilege have waited for care for nearly a day in the first place, and if not, is that an appropriate way to dole out healthcare? Yes, the healthcare system is broken. But it’s a hell of a lot more broken for some people than for others.

Important Related Posts:
More information from the New York ACLU
Esmin Green…Yes, She Mattered – Womanist Musings
Esmin Green – Dies B/c She Does Not Count – WOC PhD
“Flesh that needs to be loved”…. more thoughts on Esmin Green – harrietsdaughter at Don’t Do That

PS-Sometimes when I find something completely outrageous and horrifying, it takes me a while to write the related post. I want to get it right, not get it fast.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. July 4, 2008 1:03 pm

    Thanks for the link up and thank you so much for taking the time to write about this story. I cannot tell you how much watching the tape of her death angered and haunted me. I just cannot let it go. When will people start to realize that the least amongst us matter. Again thanks for acknowledging Esmin. If only she had garnered this much attention in life she might still be with us now.

  2. MAGGIE permalink
    July 4, 2008 1:09 pm


  3. MAGGIE permalink
    July 4, 2008 2:48 pm

    Rachel is quite right. I wonder about Ms. Greene being there alone. A contributor to our society by all accounts: a civic minded person through her church going, child rearing (though from a distance), and employment. Ironic that according to reports, in one of her jobs she was a health care worker. Esmin Greene was you and she was me. She was so many West Indian women who left children behind to come overseas to make a better life for her and for them. Nobody will perhaps ever know all she suffered even before getting to Kings County Hospital that day. Nobody will know for sure all that burdened Esmin Greene’s mind. But we can guess. It could not have been easy to leave 6 children behind – who knows when last she actually saw their faces. They say that the youngest was about 14; she would have been 5 or 6 when her Mom left. I cannot imagine that her job was easy and who knows what other encounters and disappointments she faced at losing it and her pay, being unable to support her family, being evicted. These are all stories we have heard and she had them all rolled into one. Could I have coped with this and with little or no family support? You can’t tell everyone your business you know. We judge. And it appears that Esmin had no one she could trust to hold her secrets and help with her burdens – I have not heard that there was anyone there in the ER with her but much of the story has not yet been told. The world has seen a picture of the undignified death of a “faceless”/ anonymous Ms. Greene. If you can – look at the picture of “Sister Greene” dressed and speaking at her Church’s lectern, microphone in hand. Does it matter? Yes, but only in as much that it tells us that she indeed is “us”: she is the nameless and faceless that we pass in and out everyday – they too go to church, have children, lives, problems – in our communities as we go about our business not knowing and often not caring what ails each other. For how much longer?
    By the way – lest we get all righteous, maybe we also are the security guard, the nurse, the doctor who ignored Esmine Green’s final cry for help!!

  4. July 5, 2008 7:26 am

    Renee, thank you for your comment and for your excellent post. Maggie, thank you for your comment as well.

  5. July 5, 2008 8:02 am

    When I saw the picture on CNN’s article (also put into my blogpost), of her lying dead on the floor, I wondered if she would have received this horrific treatment had she had family nearby.

    It seems that those without family receive some of the worst care — simply because they have no one to care about them.

  6. July 5, 2008 8:24 am

    archcrone, she may have received better care if she had family nearby, just like the hospital itself may have continued on in the same way if this event hadn’t been caught on videotape and released to the public – both are a factor of someone watching. I firmly believe, however, that compassionate and excellent care should not depend on someone watching, on possibly getting caught doing something undesirable – it should be a given.

  7. July 7, 2008 8:29 am


    many years ago, while in social work school, i spent a semester at the very prestigious johns hopkins hospital in baltimore. one day i was as angry as you when i saw that a nurse had inserted her notes on a patient before mine, so it would appear she had attended to a situation i’d questioned.

    and there were other enfuriating experiences encountered that would remind me over and over how little leverage i had in a doctor-run organization. is there a solution? i believe medicine is overdue for changes–and i’m not talking here about reimbursement of overpaid specialties. everyone in the system from cleaning personnel to management needs a course in ETHICS where the first question is “why am i here?”

  8. July 7, 2008 9:27 am

    Naomi, thanks for your comment, and I certainly hope there is a solution.

  9. July 7, 2008 10:49 am

    A white male friend of mine, in his mid-40s, died six months ago, after spending seven hours in the emergency room without being attended to. It seems that he had undiagnosed (because he had no health insurance) thyroid problem which had weakened his heart, had a hormonal surge (which drove him to the ER), and (because no one attended to him, because he wasn’t bleeding or something like that) his heart gave out. I don’t blame the ER workers, exactly, since I know that they are stretched thin all the time, and he looked basically healthy, and other patients must have seemed to be in much more urgent need of their care. But I do blame the people who responded by claiming that his death was his own fault, since he had (in their words) chosen to be a musician and to live without health care. When did we stop feeling responsible for one another? And how can people claim with a straight face that the US has the greatest health care system in the world? Doesn’t a good (let alone great) health care system work to keep people healthy? And shouldn’t people who come to the ER be treated with respect, and have their illnesses seen to, because they are part of our community?

  10. July 7, 2008 10:53 am

    nm, that’s terrible, and hits close to home because that very thing could have happened to me (my endo mentioned that possibility, actually) if I hadn’t had the insurance coverage that let me keep pressing for a diagnosis (and eventual treatment) for my own thyroid problem. Agreed on your other questions/points as well.

  11. Laura Ziegler permalink
    July 8, 2008 7:20 am

    FYI, there is a demonstration planned for next week:

    ‘WE the PEOPLE’ are planning to hold a vigil and demonstration calling attention to the horrific actions and complete neglect in the death of Ms. Esmin Elizabeth Green at the Brooklyn Kings County Hospital Center.

    We invite all supporters of human rights to join and support us in demanding a world free of forced and coerced psychiatric procedures.

    To stand on this day united, we join together with our fellow activists, comrades and communities to demand social justice, equal rights, and an environment free from torture and detention.

    Kings County Hospital Center
    451 Clarkson Avenue
    Brooklyn, New York 11203
    Monday July 14, 2008
    2:00 PM – 10:00 PM
    Candlelight vigil will begin at 8:30 PM
    Join the vigil and stand with our neighbors to demonstrate your personal support and commitment in the memory of Ms. Green.

    We welcome your involvement as a co-sponsor, and would like to have your organization endorse this effort.

    If you would like to be involved, please contact:
    David W. Oaks

    Daniel Hazenss

    Lauren Tenney

  12. Rose permalink
    July 9, 2008 1:05 am

    What mental health condition was she seeking treatment for? If she was well enough to get to the E/R and stable enough to know she needed to wait there for assistance, why couldn’t she go to the counter and let them know she was deathly ill? Perhaps she did and they aren’t admitting it? What was the official cause of death? She didn’t die of sitting there. Did she have a heart attack? stroke? hit her head in the fall? dehydration? I can’t find mention of the cause. This bothers me because its IMPORTANT!

  13. July 9, 2008 4:55 am

    Even if she came to the hospital with someone it’s likely they wouldn’t have been allowed into the psychiatric area with her. In my state of Missouri, the first 24 hours of a psychiatric admission are called lock down (don’t ya love the prison lingo?) and once the patient has entered the psychiatric section of the hospital they are completely alone. (At least this was what my brother experienced in a state mental hospital 7 years ago.) This horrible way to die has haunted me as well. I only hope that some good will come of her death. Folks like us can raise awareness about the horrible way we treat our mentally ill in this country.

  14. July 9, 2008 2:29 pm

    This breaks my heart. People who are mentally ill are more vulnerable than the general population, and should be treated better, not worse. And, mentally ill people can be sick, not just “crazy”, and need to be monitored more carefully, since they are harder to diagnose.

    I can only hope that the backlash (if there is one) from this incident will improve conditions for the mentally ill in public hospitals.

  15. July 9, 2008 11:10 pm

    Yes, I am in total agreement with Rachel about the self serving bogus “documentation” that goes on endlessly in what stands for our mental health systems. When do our human rights, which are codified in all of our states in one form or another, actually start to work to protect people? When do they actually start to connect people up to a healing environment pro-actively instead of just moving in with sanctions after the fact of this and other kinds of daily grotesque inhumanities? I am a mother of four, a “mentally ill” woman who has at times literally staved in America, who speaks the Kings English and enjoys white skin privilege. Now, particularly as I age, I know I am almost as vulnerable as Esmin Green. Let us never, never, never forget her. Let us hold her memory, cherish her and work like we have never worked before to make human rights a living, healing reality for all, especially those vulnerable ones, so-called minorities, women and children, chronically denied them.

  16. July 11, 2008 9:43 pm

    I am a close friend to Ms Green’s family here in Jamaica and i knew her personally.It was heart rending to watch the video of what transpired in the hospital.despite one’s condition,race or status,every life should be treated with the same level of care and attention.It causes us to think because it could have been you or even me…..we all have a part to play in the future individually;lets love more and be our brothers up and one love

  17. ophelia permalink
    July 12, 2008 1:05 am

    where is her family???????
    why left her alone????????
    the family should have been there for her to go to the counter for help!!!!!!!
    for the staffs, they all deserve to get firedddddddddddddd.

  18. harrietsdaughter permalink
    July 12, 2008 5:06 pm

    Rachel – thanks for this post and for the link. You are doing important work here, with this post of course but with the entire site. Thank you for speaking out on so many vitally important issues

  19. Kevin permalink
    July 16, 2008 11:10 am

    she probably died of the strong “anti-psychotics” they injected her with

  20. macy inbabwe permalink
    December 30, 2008 3:52 am

    this is the effect of a culture of indifference..see abortion, consumerism, ceo salaries, divorce, george bush lies,

  21. sam macharia permalink
    February 1, 2009 1:51 am

    very devastating and especially for the fact that it happened in USA, the world watchdog of human rights!!!!!!

  22. April Scheller permalink
    May 9, 2011 11:11 am

    I do beleive that the paitents would be unlikely to know about blood clots unlike the staff whom had gone to college or had training in order to know that someone can move around in spasms. Those with the knowledge that this could happen are responsible, not those whom had not only no authority but very well may have had no idea that she was suffering physical on top of the shared psychological stress that everyone suffers in a long internment in the segregate ER. Family can even be prevented from seeing you in the ER and no, you of course cannot walk out before a doctor sees you even if you are not suffering a blood clot in your leg that has made you unable to walk.


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