ORLANDO, Fla. - A mother whose son was killed in a hit-and-run crash says he died alone because officials couldn't identify the 19-year-old soon enough.
"It’s hard to know that my son was fighting for his life and I couldn’t hold his hand."
For six days, Vivian Blanco desperately searched the streets of Orlando for her son, Anthony Mejias.
The harsh reality was that she was just steps away from him and didn't realize it.
"I actually came to this same hospital."
Back in April, Anthony was on a cross-state bus trip from Tallahassee to his home in South Florida, with a connection in Orlando.
During that stop, Anthony disappeared without a trace. The frantic mother started searching for her son. Her first stop, Orlando Regional Medical Center.
"I go directly into the emergency room. I ask them, I let them know it’s a John Doe."
Vivian says she showed a front desk worker a picture of Anthony and gave her his height and weight.
"They looked at a kind of log that they had and they said, 'No, we don’t have anyone that matches your son's description.'"
But it turns out Anthony was at that hospital. The Florida Highway Patrol says an ambulance brought him to that hospital after he was hit by a car.
He had no ID on him so no one knew his identity. The next day Anthony died without his family there.
"At his worse time, I couldn’t be there… while I was here steps away from him. I do feel like the system has failed."
An Orlando Health spokeswoman says they’re not allowed to talk about specific patient cases due to privacy laws, but that they work with law enforcement to identify patients.
She also released this statement: "We understand the importance of the presence and support of family members for our patients and realize the difficult circumstance families face when searching for loved ones. Sadly, identification confirmation is not always possible."
So we wanted to know, what's a hospital's obligation to check when someone comes in asking about a missing person?
In New York, there are guidelines for the front desk and others to follow. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) wouldn't comment on this specific case. It says there are no state rules or regulations that hospitals must follow when it comes to tracking down missing people.
NEW YORK GUIDELINES:
State Senator Jason Brodeur is vice-chair of Florida's Committee on Health Policy. He's working to change that.
"This was a terrible perfect storm of bad stuff. And so how do we close that loophole?"
Senator Brodeur believes the solution is having statewide guidelines, then going after a hospital's license if they don't follow them.
"To put something a little more firm in that has some consequences to it, to make sure it’s part of licensure. There’s no question that we could certainly talk to the hospitals and we could talk to AHCA, who licenses our hospitals," he said.
In Anthony's case, it was an investigator at the Orange County Medical Examiner’s office who made the connection after seeing the story on FOX 35 News.
Vivian says of FOX 35, "You were the first one to air my story of my son when he was missing. Somehow the M.E. [medical examiner] personnel saw that news and was the one who said this might be this person."
Vivian says Anthony was the focus of her life. Now, she has a new one: Find the hit-and-run driver who killed her son and change the rules to prevent this from happening to others.
"It’s extremely upsetting. Very, very frustrating. I’m just trying to hold it together right now."
Senator Brodeur says he’ll be reaching out to hospitals and ACHA to work on a proposal regarding John Doe's and will know more by the end of the summer.