3 hospitals cited for turning away ER patients

As the first state to ban ambulance diversion in 2009, Massachusetts investigators have cited three hospitals in the past six months for wrongly diverting patients from their emergency rooms--with one case resulting in the death of a patient, reported The Boston Globe.

State investigators found that Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River in August failed to provide necessary medical care before transferring a patient who was unstable, in respiratory distress and died on the way to the other facility. Investigators also found Vincent Hospital in Worcester transferred a patient with flesh-eating bacteria to another hospital in October after an on-call surgeon refused to come in at night to perform an emergency operation, the article noted.

Meanwhile, Lahey Clinic workers in November told a patient he was banned from the hospital's emergency room in Peabody and Burlington. Without any evaluation or treatment, the patient was escorted off the property.

Even though Charlton, St. Vincent and Lahey all sent away ER patients, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services won't eliminate their Medicare funding because they "implemented corrective action that has been effective over the longer term," the Globe noted. However, the hospitals could face fines from the Office of the Inspector General.

Hospitals are required to provide stabilizing treatment for patients with emergency medical conditions under the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA). If a hospital can't stabilize a patient within its capability, or if the patient requests, the hospital can offer an appropriate transfer. According to the state investigations, ER crowding didn't play a role in these patient diversions.

For more information:
- read the Boston Globe article
- see EMTALA rules