Have you ever gone to a hospital emergency room and then been told you had to go to a different emergency room. Perhaps they told you to sign a paper because you had to go somewhere else because you couldn’t pay their rates and you could get “free care” somewhere else. You may have been a victim of patient dumping. Patient dumping is the refusal to treat people because of inability to pay or insufficient insurance. It could also be the transferring or discharging of emergency patients on the basis of the anticipation of a high cost-diagnosis and treatment. Patient dumping happens more often than you think. You hear such things on the news now and then. It can often happen with someone who is homeless or it can happen to YOU! The Hospital Surveyor investigates these types of situations.

EMTALA – so what is that besides another piece of the alphabet puzzle? EMTALA stands for the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. It requires participating hospitals (e.g. hospitals that get Medicare monies) and ambulance services to provide care to anyone needing emergency treatment regardless of citizenship, immigration status, or legal status and/or their ability to pay. It really applies to almost all hospitals in the United States, with a few exceptions. Those who need emergency treatment can be discharged only under their own informed consent or when their condition requires transfer to a hospital better equipped to administer the treatment.

EMTALA laws are meant to prevent the practice of patient dumping. EMTALA laws apply to all situations in which an individual with a medical emergency goes to an emergency department. An emergency department is an area of the hospital that is equipped and staffed for initial evaluation and treatment of people for emergency medical conditions. Therefore, it doesn’t apply to most outpatient clinics.

For EMTALA laws to apply to you, your medical condition must be an emergency medical condition. That means it is a condition that shows as acute symptoms of such severity that the absence of immediate medical attention would probably result in placing the patient?s health in serious jeopardy, cause a serious impairment to bodily functions, or result in a serious dysfunction of bodily organs. It also applies to women in labor and their unborn child.

Hospitals have three obligations under EMTALA:

  1. Individuals requesting emergency care must receive a medical screening examination to determine whether an emergency medical condition (EMC) exists. Examination and treatment cannot be delayed to inquire about methods of payment or insurance coverage.
  2. The emergency room must treat an individual with an EMC until the condition is resolved or stabilized. If the hospital does not have the capability to treat the condition, the hospital must make an “appropriate” transfer of the patient to another hospital with such capability.
  3. Hospitals with specialized capabilities must accept such transfers.

When a complaint comes into a state agency regarding the potential of patient dumping or the emergency room refusing to treat a patient, that is then considered an EMTALA complaint. A surveyor will go out to the facility and look at the issues. If there has been a violation of EMTALA, then deficiencies can be issued and other actions, such as a more in-depth survey of the facility, can be taken against the facility.

If you think you or a loved one are the victim of patient dumping contact your state licensing agency and file a complaint. A Hospital Surveyor will then investigate the complaint and determine what, if any regulations the hospital may have violated.

Be safe and be informed!


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