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What is "patient dumping," and what can you do about it?

Many private hospitals are run as businesses in the sense that they need to make enough money to remain open. Sometimes, especially when a patient appears to have little or no means to pay for treatment, this can lead to the temptation on the part of such a private hospital to transfer the patient to another, usually public hospital. This procedure, which has often occurred in emergency room settings, is known as "patient dumping."

The problem of patient dumping was serious enough that the federal government enacted a law, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, to discourage the practice. The law requires hospitals to perform a medical screening on anyone coming into the a hospital who asks for emergency medical treatment to determine if an emergency condition exists; if such a condition exists, then the hospital staff must either stabilize the condition, or transfer the patient to a hospital that can.

Thus, it is illegal for a hospital to turn away someone who asks for emergency medical help; it is also impermissible for the hospital to delay such a screening while it determines whether the person has health insurance.

Violation of the EMTALA law in Louisiana can lead to hospital liability in different ways. First, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services investigates reported hospital violations of the law. Second, if the patient suffers harm then EMTALA also allows for a private cause of action under this state's personal injury law. What is more, the patient's attorney can use any information gathered by a CMMS investigation in the civil liability lawsuit.

Patient dumping is not as severe a problem as it was before the passage of the EMTALA law, but it can still happen. If it does, then the law gives you the ability to take legal action to recover damages for any harm that you may suffer.

While this post cannot cover all aspects of the EMTALA, and should not be taken as specific legal advice, if you have questions we encourage you to contact our law office for answers.

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