Medical Malpractice: EMTALA and Failure to Stabilize

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The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal law that addresses the issue of “patient dumping.”  Patient dumping is when a private or upscale public hospital postpones the screening and treatment of a person with an “emergency medical condition,” in order to transfer that person to another (less expensive) hospital. 

In 1999, the California Supreme Court considered a case where an 18-month-old child was brought to an emergency room with a high fever.  The doctor predicted a life-threatening infection in the blood, and thought tests should be performed.  Antibiotics would have easily stabilized the condition. 

But the child was a member of another hospital group, who ordered that the child be transferred rather than provided treatment at the first hospital.  Fifteen minutes after arrival at the second hospital, the child died.  The hospitals were held liable for failure to stabilize the patient. 

EMTALA requires hospitals to screen and stabilize a patient who arrives anywhere on the hospital campus with an “emergency medical condition.”   Under the 2000 regulations, a hospital was required to take care of a patient coming within 250 yards of its buildings, even if the person was lying injured from a gunshot wound in a nearby public alley.  Under the new 2003 provisions, the hospital is only responsible for those suffering people coming on-campus. 

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Last Modified: 10-30-2012 03:29 PM PDT

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