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Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act

emergency-room-65898-mThe Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, passed by the United States Congress in 1986, ensures that the public receive access to emergency medical services, without regard as to whether or not that individual has sufficient funds to pay for those services. Congress enacted EMTALA, in part, after a growing number of allegations in which private hospitals had refused to treat individuals that did not have the resources to pay for medical services. These hospitals would “dump” patients on publicly funded hospitals that were already overcrowded with sick patients.

 Under EMTALA, hospitals with an emergency department are required to:

  1. provide an appropriate medical screening examination to any individual who comes to the emergency department;· to provide necessary stabilizing treatment to an individual with an emergency medical condition or an individual in labor;
  2. provide for an appropriate transfer of the individual if either the individual requests the transfer or the hospital does not have the capability or capacity to provide the treatment necessary to stabilize the emergency medical condition (or the capability or capacity to admit the individual);
  3. not delay examination or treatment in order to inquire about the individual’s insurance or payment status;
  4. accept appropriate transfers of individuals with emergency medical conditions if the hospital has a specialized capability that is not available at the transferring hospital and has the capacity to treat those individuals;
  5. obtain or attempt to obtain written and informed refusal or examination, treatment, or an appropriate transfer in the case of an individual who refuses examination, treatment, or transfer; and
  6. not take adverse action against physicians or qualified medical personnel who refuse to transfer an individual with an emergency medical condition, or against an employee who reports a violation of these requirements.

EMTALA is applicable to a hospital that has a dedicated emergency department and participates in Medicare. Once a patient presents to the ER, the hospital must provide appropriate medical screening to determine whether an emergency medical condition exists. If such a condition exists, the hospital must provide the necessary stabilizing treatment or an appropriate transfer to avoid liability. An “emergency medical condition” is considered to be placing the health of the patient, or a patient’s unborn child in jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part. A patient should be admitted in order for the hospital to provide the necessary stabilizing treatment. If a patient is transferred to another hospital, when the original hospital has the services, staff, and capabilities to stabilize a patient, EMTALA may be violated and liability may attach. In a situation where a patient is unstable at the original hospital and/or ER and stabilization is not possible, an analysis of the risks and benefits must be made with regard to the transfer to a different emergency department.

In a decision recently decided by the the Federal District Court of Massachusetts, the court noted that EMTALA was intended to protect patients from a hospital’s refusal to treat them or a transfer without stabilization. However, in the particular case of Bryson v. Milford Regional Medical Center, Inc., et al., the pregnant Plaintiff was treated, admitted as an inpatient or for observation, given a bed and monitored until it was determined that she should be admitted then transferred for better care. “Plaintiff was not dumped within the meaning of the Act.” The court further noted that while EMTALA would not be applicable in the present case, there may still be claims for negligence or malpractice against the individual health care providers and/or hospital.

To read more about the the court’s reasoning in the case mentioned above, please click here.  Additionally, the Government has extensive information available about EMTALA.  If you believe you have a medical malpractice case, our office can help you. To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.