David Janssen, the county's chief administrative officer, said the incident is being taken very seriously. In a rare move, his office took over control of the inquiry from the county health department and the office of public safety.

"There's no excuse -- and I don't think anybody believes that there is," Janssen said.

Over the last 3 1/2 years, King-Harbor has reeled from crisis to crisis.

Based on serious patient-care lapses, it has lost its national accreditation and federal funding. Hundreds of staff members have been disciplined and services cut.

Janssen said he was concerned that the incident would divert attention from preparing the hospital for a crucial review in six weeks that is to determine whether it can regain federal funding.

If the hospital fails, it could be forced to close.

"It certainly isn't going to help," Janssen said.

At the same time, he said, the preliminary investigation suggests that the fault primarily rests with the nurse who resigned. "I think it's a tragic, tragic incident, but it's not a systemic one."

Supervisor Gloria Molina, who hadn't seen the videotape, said she wasn't sure the hospital had reformed.

"What's so discouraging and disappointing for me is that it seems that this hospital at this point in time hasn't really transformed itself -- and I'm worried about it," she said.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich said he believed care had improved at the hospital overall, but added, "It's unconscionable that anyone would ignore a patient in obvious distress."

Rodriguez's son, Edmundo, 25, said he still couldn't understand why his mother died. "It's more than negligence. I can't even think of the word."

His 24-year-old sister, Christina, said, "It just makes it so much harder to grieve. It's so painful."

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charles.ornstein@latimes.com

Times staff writers Stuart Pfeifer and Susannah Rosenblatt contributed to this report.