Within the last six months, three Massachusetts hospitals have been cited for unjustifiably turning away and failing to treat three patients who came to their emergency rooms seeking treatment. One case involved transferring a patient to another hospital while the patient was unstable and in respiratory distress.
Hospital Number One
The patient had arrived at the emergency room with shortness of breath and coughing. The patient had a long-standing serious lung condition that required that he be given oxygen. The patient requested to be transferred to another hospital where he had been treated previously.
An emergency room physician determined that the patient was stable enough to be transferred. However, a subsequent emergency room physician who took over the patient’s care failed to reassess the patient’s condition and whether the patient was stable enough to be transferred, after the patient’s condition deteriorated significantly. The emergency room staff also failed to provide the patient with a breathing tube in case he needed mechanical assistance breathing during the ambulance ride to the other hospital.
Hospital Number Two
In the second case, the patient arrived at the emergency department with a fever and pain from an abscess on the patient’s buttock. The emergency room physician determined that the patient was in poor shape and needed emergency surgery to remove the dead tissue in order to increase the patient’s chance of survival. The on-call surgeon refused to come to the hospital late at night to treat the patient. The patient had to be transferred to another hospital for treatment — the patient’s fate was not disclosed.
Hospital Number Three
In the third case, when the patient arrived at the hospital’s emergency room seeking medical treatment, the staff told the patient that he was banned from that emergency room and a sister-hospital’s emergency room. The patient was not evaluated or treated but was placed in a wheelchair and was escorted by a security guard off of the hospital’s grounds.
The patient sought treatment at another hospital emergency room. The staff of the other emergency room called the first hospital to find out why the patient had not been evaluated and treated. The first hospital arranged for an ambulance to take the patient to its sister-hospital where the patient was admitted.
A federal law, known as the anti patient dumping statute, requires hospitals with emergency rooms to provide people who arrive at their hospitals with medical screening examinations and to stabilize the patients’ emergency medical conditions. Violations of the federal law by hospitals with emergency rooms are subject to severe penalties. In New England alone, there were 11 violations of the law in 2011, 13 violations in 2010, and 7 violations in 2009.
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