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Death in ER spurs a plea for system reform

Activists call for overhauling "an inept health- care system" as a tribute to Joaquin Rivera.

Shivering on the sidewalk outside the emergency room where Joaquin Rivera died and was robbed while waiting to see a doctor, Puerto Rican civil rights activists yesterday called for the "overhaul of an inept health-care system."

"Joaquin died in a place he trusted, without the dignity he deserved," said Joe Garcia, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights. "This is Joaquin's last human rights act - helping to bring national attention to the need for health care in our community."

Rivera, 63, a popular city high school counseling assistant, musician, and community activist, was pronounced dead at 12:04 a.m. Nov. 29, an hour and 19 minutes after he checked in at the Aria Health-Frankford Campus, complaining of pain in his left arm and chest.

Police have arrested two of the three people involved in stealing Rivera's watch after he lost consciousness. That episode, recorded by security cameras, has been widely circulated on the Internet.

Rivera was buried Saturday.

About 20 members and supporters of the Congress for Puerto Rican Rights gathered for the 10 a.m. news conference outside the emergency room entrance at 4900 Frankford Ave. Inside, the waiting area appeared deserted except for security guards.

Rivera helped to found the Congress for Puerto Rican Rights in 1981, said Victor Vazquez, who flew in from Miami for the funeral.

"Here we have a man who dedicated all of his life to the community through his music and social activism," Vazquez said. "That he would be treated with such reckless disregard in an emergency room . . . is a travesty."

Vazquez and other speakers called for an investigation into the circumstances of Rivera's death - an inquiry that the Pennsylvania Department of Health has already launched.

Vazquez also said the group would push for an investigation by the federal Office of Civil Rights.

"We kept quiet until today," he said. "Now is the beginning of our campaign to get compensation for the family and the community."

He said updates on the campaign would be available on the group's Web site,