It could happen to anyone.

That was one of the messages expressed yesterday morning by Puerto Rican civil-rights activists to about 20 people gathered outside the emergency-room entrance at Aria Health's Frankford campus.

Members of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights braved the cold and protested the lack of emergency care for Joaquin Rivera, 63, a beloved counselor at Olney High School and a cultural icon in Philadelphia's Puerto Rican community, who died at the hospital Nov. 28.

"It wasn't just Joaquin who died in that room; it was the soul of the community that was dying in that room," said Joe Garcia, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the NCPRR.

The last hour of Rivera's vibrant life was spent waiting in an emergency room at Aria Health, where he lay unconscious while nurses and security guards apparently forgot about him, authorities said.

"He lay there 79 minutes," said Garcia. "This should not be happening in the United States."

Rivera's longtime friends also stood by the activists outside Aria Health, on Frankford Avenue near Harrison Street.

Former City Councilman Angel Ortiz choked back tears when he spoke about Rivera's death.

"We celebrate every Christmas together and he always provides the music," said Ortiz, whose friendship with Rivera spanned 32 years. Ortiz, who said Rivera was writing a song especially for the holiday, mourned that he will never hear him play music again.

Garcia and Ortiz both said the lack of emergency care was like similar cases across the nation. Both men vowed to seek further investigation into Rivera's death.

"If a man like Joaquin with full insurance could come in and be treated like this, it just says a lot about how people could be treated elsewhere," said Ortiz.

Rivera's friends yesterday also hailed a man they say was "everywhere" and involved in "everything" in the community.

This included Olney High, where Rivera worked as a bilingual counselor for more than 30 years.

Johnny Irizarry, 54, a member of the School Reform Commission and a Latino-studies teacher at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, said that Rivera was an educational activist to the core.

"He was always trying to get more programs into Olney High School, help more students and was constantly working in educational reform," Irizarry said.

Rivera was buried Saturday.

His students from Olney High plan to hold a vigil outside Aria Health beginning at 9 a.m. today.