‘We’re at a standstill’: Patients can face agonizing waits for hospital transfers

By Emily Alpert Reyes (Staff Writer)
Photography By Francine Orr
May 28, 2023

When the pain kicked in again in February, Lahisha Marquez-Soto held off on going to the hospital for days, until she was struggling to walk out of her college dorm in Carson.
Eight days into her stay at MLK Community Hospital, doctors knew she needed another facility. She needed a medical procedure that would allow doctors to peer inside her digestive tract and perform a biopsy to find out what was wrong with her pancreas. That was something that the small hospital in South Los Angeles could not do.
But week after week, the 20-year-old lay waiting in frustration. Stranded in her hospital bed, she missed college classes, birthday celebrations, a scheduled visit with her siblings in foster care. She read novels, watched HGTV and tried not to think about what she was missing.
“It messes with you mentally,” she said. “You’re just stuck in a room.”
Lahisha Marquez-Soto is a patient inside MLK Community Hospital. Eight days into her stay, doctors knew she needed to go to another hospital. Marquez-Soto was at the mercy of a haphazard process that plays out through phone calls and faxes, as smaller hospitals try to find help for patients who need medical procedures that those hospitals cannot provide.
Hospitals are generally required under federal law to accept transfer patients suffering from medical emergencies if the facilities have space and capability; but federal officials said that does not obligate them to accept those like Marquez-Soto, who have already been admitted to a hospital. Hospital employees armed with phone lists often need to call, and call, and call until they can secure a spot. One MLK staffer likened it to throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks.