NATIONAL CITY, Calif. — Alberto Herrera stumbled into the lobby of a Mexican restaurant barefoot, wearing only jeans, and a tee shirt. Hospital bands from Paradise Valley Hospital which was just a block away adorned his wrist. The hospital where, according to medical records obtained by CBS 8, Herrera had eloped from the hospital a little over an hour earlier.
The workers knew Herrera, said Herrera's ex-fiance and mother to Herrera's two young girls, Joanna Hurtado. They knew something was wrong. Hurtado says workers later told her that he was acting strange. He tried to get into people's cars. He went to the counter and asked for ice water. Seconds later, Hurtado says employees told her that the 32-year-old father of two collapsed in the parking lot.
Hurtado and her two daughters arrived at the restaurant to see paramedics administering CPR to Herrera. Hurtado, who works inside a hospital ER, knew he was dead.
"I could already tell like, he wasn't there anymore," said Hurtado, holding back tears.
More than three months after the tragic scene, Hurtado says she wants answers. She has filed complaints with the California Medical Board as well as the State's Health Department to investigate why hospital staff allowed a man with severe pancreatitis, dangerously rapid heartbeat, and what she believes was a psychotic side effect from a medication, to leave the hospital that day.
Herrera called 911 in the middle of the night on August 9 complaining of severe abdominal pain.
An ambulance transported Herrera to Paradise Valley Hospital. According to medical records, doctors there later found Herrera to have "severe pancreatitis and early sepsis" as well as experiencing kidney failure.
Hurtado said doctors scheduled emergency surgery but was forced to wait until Herrera's heart rate slowed to normal levels.
The following evening, Hurtado says Herrera, while in significant pain, was happy that he was getting the treatment he needed.
"He was lucid. He was normal. He was just tired," said Hurtado who works as an ER tech at a nearby hospital. "He told me that he was just gonna rest. He said he was just tired because he hasn't been able to sleep because everyone keeps coming in and poking him. And, you know, just checking on him, that he was finally going to just try to sleep until the morning."
Unbeknownst to Hurtado, hours after their phone call, medical records show Herrera became agitated. Notes said Herrera was withdrawing from alcohol. Doctors prescribed him Ativan. It didn't work. They prescribed him more but Herrera became more agitated and confused. He grew combative.
During the early morning of August 11, doctors ordered a CT scan to check to see if Herrera's agitation was a result of some type of head injury. The CT scan came back normal.
After ripping out his IVs and tearing loose from his restraints, Herrera demanded that he be discharged.
Around 11:30 am on August 11, medical records show that a nurse wrote that Herrera was "alert and oriented" while another nurse said he "showed signs of confusion."
Herrera's medical chart said he requested to leave. Hospital staff, according to the chart, "provided him" with new clothes.
At 11:45 am, Herrera "eloped" from the hospital.
A nurse called Hurtado to inform her that Herrera had left the hospital on his own accord. Knowing Herrera needed medical attention, Hurtado called 911.
Just a little more than an hour later, a worker at a nearby taco shop called 911 to report a man needed medical help.
Hurtado and her daughters drove to the taco shop and saw medics already performing CPR.
Hurtado says she wants to hold the hospital staff and the hospital accountable for failing to care for Herrera, for letting a man who was clearly in the grips of a medical and mental health crisis out of their care, and for letting him die.
"We have two kids, our youngest is one-years-old," said Hurtado. "She won't....she won't get to spend time with her dad. He loved his kids so much. Like that was his...that was like the biggest blessing to him. He loved being a dad. He was such a great person. It just hurts because he was a person who was loved. His kids loved him. And like, we can't, we can't go back. We can't bring him back. it's not fair. It's not fair for my kids. We miss him so much. They didn't do anything to care for him properly."
More than anything, Hurtado says she hopes her quest for justice will help prevent similar tragedies from happening to other families.
Added Hurtado, "I want accountability. I want change. It's a human life. They can't just pick and choose who they want to save, or who to care for. As healthcare professionals, we should want to save everyone. Whether they're alcoholics or homeless, anything like they should have protected him they should have cared for him. And I want them to be accountable. I want justice."
According to the California Department of Public, Paradise Valley Hospital received 134 complaints from families and patients since 2019. The state average of hospital complaints for that same time period is 144.
A spokesperson for Paradise Valley Hospital's parent company, Prime Health, declined to comment on the case citing privacy laws.