On November 18, 2022, Crystal Veronica Lerma, whose child is facing a serious brain health crisis, published a Facebook live stream discussing how El Paso Children’s Hospital is forcing her to go out of town to care for her child because the hospital is “failing” her child. The Facebook video was forwarded to El Paso News.
Lerma’s child was first diagnosed with brain cancer in 2019 when he was five years old. He has undergone chemotherapy at the children’s hospital to address the cancer. Lerma has also been a strong advocate of El Paso Children’s Hospital for several years. She now believes that she cannot trust El Paso Children’s Hospital to deliver the care her child needs and has decided to have her child treated at Cook Children’s in Dallas.
In her video, Lerma explains that she spent the whole day “arguing” with hospital staff about having her child receive an MRI to help diagnose a brain mass her 8-year-old child is presenting near his brain. Although she was told that her child was scheduled for a morning MRI, by the afternoon her child had not received the MRI.
Lerma attempted to discuss the situation with hospital officials, including the CEO, Cindy Stout. What makes this latest issue facing El Paso Children’s Hospital different from the previous ones we have reported on is that Crystal Lerma recently advocated for UMC’s recent certificates of obligations at the request of UMC. Most recently, El Paso Children’s Hospital lawyers successfully convinced a court to hide from the public an affidavit by a former El Paso Children’s Hospital doctor accusing a current hospital doctor of being “a real danger to his patients.”
El Paso News contacted Crystal Lerma on November 19, 2022, for her comments regarding her recent experiences with the El Paso Children’s Hospital. In an email interview, Lerma told El Paso News that her child has “faced an abundance of issues” with the children’s hospital. Lerma also accuses the hospital of violating HIPAA regulations by discussing her child’s medical condition in front of others without any regard to the medical privacy law. In a second email, Lerma added that HIPAA was not only violated in the emergency room, but “that the last oncologist” that provided the test results to her “did it in the playroom in front of another patient and their parent.” Lerma had asked to return to her son’s room to hear the results, but the doctor “said no right here is fine.”
Lerma told us that she filed a HIPAA violation against Dr. Ranjan Bista with the compliance officer. Bista is a Texas Tech University of El Paso Physician. He is affiliated with the El Paso Children’s Hospital.
In addition to privacy issues and the lack of attention to her son, Lerma told us that El Paso Children’s Hospital’s emergency department “is full of individuals with families in stretchers in hallways.”
Regarding the MRI, Lerma told us that after being told her son would be given priority because of the mass in his head and his previous cancer diagnosis, hospital staff “did not put him on the schedule for the MRI multiple times.” Because the MRI was scheduled for the morning, she was told not to let her son eat before the MRI was administered. After waiting until the afternoon with hospital staff unable to provide any information, they learned that the MRI was not scheduled after Lerma’s husband called the radiology department directly – who told them they were not on the schedule.
After alerting the children’s hospital staff about the scheduling problem, they were told they were scheduled for the following day at ten in the morning, the day she made her Facebook live stream. It wasn’t until after two in the afternoon the following day that the MRI was finally administered, Lerma told us.
Frustrated, Lerma told us that she told hospital staff “multiple times to be transferred to another hospital.” They were told that “there are 30 families in line waiting to be transferred and there was no space anywhere else” for her son. In addition to willing to drive her son to “San Antonio, Dallas, Houston or Denver,” the Lerma’s faced the additional hurdle of the children’s hospital refusing to release her son’s medical records to them.
The day after the MRI was administered, Bista told her that the latest MRI showed “there was no mass at all.” Lerma told us that if we asked her if she believed in miracles, she would tell us “most definitely but in this case, I don’t trust EP Childrens [sic] hospital.” In a telephone interview on November 25, Lerma told us that she believes that El Paso Children’s Hospital’s oncology department “is a joke and understaffed.”
When Lerma asked the doctor about the symptoms her son was exhibiting that were concerning her, Bista suggested that the symptoms – loss of balance, headaches and vomiting – were caused by her son’s hair. What concerned Lerma the most was when the doctor asked her if her son wore glasses while the son was next to them wearing his prescription glasses. Bista then suggested that the headaches might be caused by the glasses. Lerma does not trust what the doctor reported to her because a mass was first indicated, it changed location and then it was not there, according to her.
CEO Cindy Stout Left Patient’s Own Artwork As Gift
Lerma told us that after voicing her intention to move her child to Dallas, El Paso Children’s Hospital CEO, Cindy Stout told her “I don’t want to lose you.” Stout, according to Lerma, told her husband that she visited the patient while the parents were out. Lerma believes this is not true. However, when Lerma’s husband encountered Stout in an elevator, Lerma says her husband told her that Stout told him that she visited with her son and left “a little something for him.” According to Lerma, the “little something” were her child’s own drawings.
Keeping Patients In El Paso
The cornerstone of El Paso Children’s Hospital is keeping pediatric patients in El Paso instead of sending them out of town. According to Cindy Stout, prior to El Paso Children’s Hospital opening, “approximately 650 pediatric patients had to leave El Paso,” wrote Stout in the 2018 Annual and Community Benefit Report. However, Lerma told us that “I don’t trust” the hospital anymore. She added, Children’s “is such a joke” in the telephone interview with El Paso News. Lerma told us that she will now seek treatment in Dallas for her child because “I don’t feel comfortable” at the El Paso Children’s Hospital.
Crystal Lerma told us that she believed in El Paso Children’s Hospital and their mission to keep children in El Paso for treatment. She publicly supported children’s oncology mission frequently and supported UMC’s latest bond debt request before county commissioners. However, her most recent experience has changed her mind about the children’s hospital and UMC’s funding request.
Advocated For UMC Bonds
During the presentations to the community for the recent certificates of obligation, Lerma advocated to county commissioners that they support UMC’s non-voter approved bonds. Lerma told us that she advocated for the bonds because she “fit the mold perfectly because not only are we oncology family but a transplant family that had to travel on multiple occasions to seek care.” Lerma added that “after hearing the presentation and the arguments made by the public,” that she “was in favor of expanding the hospital.”
Lerma added that “it was a good idea” to fund the hospital so “we wouldn’t travel” out of town to seek treatment for her child. Lerma wrote to us that during the Childhood Cancer Awareness Proclamation before county commissioners court, that the El Paso Children’s Hospital’s marketing department thought it would be “a great photo op” to bring her and her friend up. Although they were only scheduled to speak before the commissioners about the bonds, the two oncology patient parents were used as a photo opportunity by the marketing staff at El Paso Children’s Hospital.
Will Now Speak Against Bonds For UMC
Although Lerma was in favor of funding operations at UMC for expanded services, she now says that “after this experience” and seeing that the doctors “are not competent” that she will no longer support issuing bonds for UMC’s growth plans. Lerma wrote to us that if she had the opportunity to speak on the bonds again, she “would definitely speak against the hospital as many people did the first time around.” Lerma added that “I have opened my eyes to the lack of responsibility” that the hospital administrators take to the issues surrounding UMC.
Lerma told us that UMC should be “using the funding that they currently have for administration training and bedside manners.” She added that she is “not the only concern[ed] parent,” adding that “there are numerous” that are concerned about the “practice/safety of the hospital.”
Lerma added that once she voiced her concerns about her experiences, El Paso Children’s Hospital retaliated against her by not allowing her child’s siblings and father to visit her child in the hospital. According to Lerma, the retaliation “was unnecessary, heartbreaking, uncalled for” and “added stress” to the stressful situation she was already in.
In her email, Lerma wrote that she knew the hospital was retaliating against her “the moment” a “unit manager stated that she knows” that oncology families “speak among each other.”
Yesterday morning we requested comments about the issues reported to us by Lerma from El Paso Children’s Hospital. El Paso Children’s Hospital Marketing Director, Daniel Veale, responded via email. Veale wrote that “El Paso Children’s Hospital is committed to providing compassionate, coordinated, family-centered care for children with a dedicated commitment to excellent patient outcomes.” Veale added that El Paso Children’s Hospital’s “goal is to ensure clear communication with our patients and families.” Veale closed with, “out of respect for our patients’ privacy, we cannot comment any further.”
Crystal Lerma told us in the telephone interview that she will now be taking her child to Cooks in Dallas next month to continue treatment for him because she does not “feel comfortable” at El Paso Children’s Hospital. She added that she does “not trust” the hospital “anymore.”
We received written permission from Crystal Lerma to discuss her son’s medical condition for our reporting.