DENVER (KDVR) — John Torres, whose right leg was amputated because of diabetes complications, was only wearing pajama bottoms — his top half covered with two blankets — the night his sister and her friend found him shivering in a wheelchair on a curbside outside of Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center.
It was Nov. 29 and temperatures in Denver fell to single digits. The morning low on Nov. 30 was 4 degrees. “It was cold, and I remember thinking to myself, if I don’t go to sleep, I won’t die,” Torres said.
His sister, Gina Torres, and a friend who drove her to the hospital happened to spot Torres in the dark as they were leaving the Presbyterian/St. Luke’s on their way to Saint Joseph Hospital, where they thought he had been transferred.
“If we wouldn’t have found him, he would be dead. No doubt, he would have been dead” from exposure, Gina Torres said.
Brother left in the cold after ambulance trip to hospital
In an interview, the siblings said they believe Torres had been left out in the cold for more than an hour, perhaps two.
A spokeswoman for Presbyterian/St. Luke’s told KDVR that Torres was removed by security guards and wheeled outside after verbally abusing hospital staff with racist language, an accusation Torres denied.
Torres had been taken to the hospital by ambulance after his sister called 911 because her brother had a massive migraine and had been acting confused for several days.
On the 911 call, Gina Torres can be heard telling a dispatcher, “My brother, he’s an amputee, he’s diabetic … He can’t get out of the bed. He said his head hurts really, really bad.”
John Torres said he would try to lie on the floor in the emergency room while waiting to be seen because it made his head hurt less.
He said security guards kept telling him that wasn’t allowed, but he did it anyway.
“I don’t know why they took me outside, because they didn’t want me to lay on their floor in the emergency room I guess. They had a policy against that I guess. I don’t know,” he said.
Gina Torres said it took her more than an hour to get to the hospital because she doesn’t have a car and was waiting for a friend to take her.
When she arrived she said a security guard said her brother was “in the back,” but when she couldn’t find him with the help of a nurse, she said she approached the security guard again, who then told her that John had been taken outside.
“He looked straight at me and he was like, ‘Oh, we put him outside.’ I was just flabbergasted. I was just, what the hell? What do you mean? You put him outside? He didn’t have no clothes on,” Gina Torres said.
She said she ran outside looking for her brother in the parking lot, and when she ran back inside, a security supervisor “told me to calm down,” and that her brother had been taken to Saint Joseph Hospital. “He’s like, ‘he’s at St. Joseph’s. You’ll find him there.'”
She said it was only dumb luck that her friend happened to spot her brother in the dark as they were driving to the other hospital.
“I don’t think he knew it was us. I’m pretty sure he didn’t even know it was me,” Gina Torres said.
“When I opened the door, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what the hell happened?’ He was like, ‘They did this to me. They did this to me. Get me out of here.’ And I moved the blanket. And I flipped. He was bleeding. There was a puddle of blood under his good foot.”
Photos show wheelchair with apparent blood nearby
Gina Torres went back to the hospital the next day and took pictures of where she found her brother. She showed KDVR photos of the hospital wheelchair still sitting where she found her brother with what appeared to be streaks of blood on the concrete nearby.
“I couldn’t believe that happened you know, like, who does that? And this is so wrong. I was just thinking this is so wrong,” Gina Torres said.
KDVR spoke by phone with the friend who was driving, and she corroborated Gina Torres’ account.
Gina Torres said she’ll never forget the horror of finding her brother in the cold darkness, half-dressed and abandoned in a wheelchair.
“His pants were down, wrapped around his ankles, and one was wrapped around the wheel of the wheelchair. He was bleeding, I didn’t know from where. He was crying. He was cold. He had peed himself. I was just…I was in shock to see anybody like that, to see anybody like that. It’s terrible. But my own brother, it was, it’s bad,” she said.
Hospital denies release of security video
KDVR asked a spokeswoman with Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center if the hospital would release surveillance video, and the hospital requested privacy release forms be signed by Gina and John Torres.
The two siblings signed the forms, but Presbyterian/St. Luke’s later said it would not release any footage because doing so would invade the privacy of other patients and staff who might be seen in the video.
KDVR asked if the hospital would be willing to blur faces (as law enforcement routinely does with video it releases) and would just share the video of the security guards wheeling John Torres outside. A spokeswoman said the hospital did not have exterior video coverage outside of its ER main entrance and said it would not release interior video due to concerns with HIPAA, the federal law restricting the release of medical information.
In an email, Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center said, “Due to continuous threats and verbal abuse both inside the waiting room and in our lobby area, and for the safety of our staff, patients, visitors, and those entering our facility, we felt it best to remove Mr. Torres from our property and took him to the sidewalk to wait for his sister.”
In an email, a spokeswoman for Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center told KDVR, “Mr. Torres exited the hospital after he refused further workup and services and expressed his desire to leave our ER, he was moved in the provided wheelchair from the property by our security guards. This followed his continuous threats and verbal abuse both inside the waiting room and in our lobby area to staff, patients, visitors, and those entering our facility. We made numerous attempts to de-escalate Mr. Torres’s behavior and received assurances by him that his sister was picking him up.”
In a follow-up email, the spokeswoman acknowledged that Torres was taken “to the sidewalk to wait for his sister.”
Gina Torres said no one contacted her from the hospital to inquire when she might arrive and said even if her brother was being belligerent, “that’s not reason for them to do what they did to anybody, to anybody, not just my brother.”
John Torres has since hired an attorney, who said he thinks he might have a case against Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center for negligence.
Presbyterian/St. Luke’s releases statement
The full statement from Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center is below.
“At Presbyterian/St. Luke’s (P/SL), we aim to provide the highest-quality care from compassionate caregivers. Mr. Torres was brought to our emergency department waiting area on November 29, 2022 by a local ambulance service. Mr. Torres arrived with a pre-existing open sore on his toe along with additional issues related to diabetes management. He was assessed by our skilled triage team then offered further work up and subsequent care in the emergency department.
“While in the waiting area, Mr. Torres racially and verbally abused the care team and ultimately refused services. Despite having been warned by an off-duty Denver Police Officer stationed in our ER to mitigate his behavior, Mr. Torres continued the harassment toward the staff and other patients at P/SL. We believe our colleagues, physicians, staff, and patients should have a safe environment in which to provide and seek care without fear of being abused or threatened.
“Ultimately, Mr. Torres refused further work up and services, then expressed his desire to depart the property against recommendations indicating a family member would be picking him up. The triage team thoroughly explained the risk of leaving the hospital. At that time, Mr. Torres’s vitals were stable and his speech clear. Mr. Torres was provided a wheelchair, coat and two blankets from the P/SL care team, having arrived at the hospital without any of those items, and escorted from the waiting area and entry where he continued to harass staff and visitors. While he was in our care, our staff remained committed to caring for Mr. Torres, treating him cordially and professionally, and we wish him well. We steadfastly affirm our commitment to the safety of our patients and colleagues, and are deeply grateful for our nurses, providers and colleagues who show up every day to care for our patients,” the hospital’s statement reads.