In 1986, the federal government enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. Known as EMTALA, for short, it’s a law that requires anyone who comes into a hospital emergency room to be treated, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

“Referred to as the ‘anti-dumping’ law, it was designed to prevent hospitals from transferring uninsured or Medicaid patients to public hospitals without, at a minimum, providing a medical screening examination to ensure they were stable for transfer,” explains the The American College of Emergency Physicians, “As a result, local and state governments began to abdicate responsibility for charity care, shifting this public responsibility to all hospitals.”

Since its inception 31 years ago, numerous medical facilities have been fined for not adhering to EMTALA. As reported by Medlaw.com last week, typical fines are generally under $100,000. However, according to the same report, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has just handed out the largest fine in the history of EMTALA.

“On June 23, 2017, AnMed Health in Anderson, S.C. entered into a $1,295,000 settlement agreement with OIG to settle allegations of multiple EMTALA violations arising from boarding psychiatric patients in the emergency department while there were empty beds in the hospital psychiatric unit,” reads the website. Evidently, a new era has been ushered in. The significantly increased fine levels indicate a much lower tolerance of patient neglect.

Patient neglect, by the way, is apparently quite the epidemic for those with mental illnesses. Medlaw.com addresses the fact that behavioral health patients are some of the most disadvantaged individuals by the American health care system. This is particularly pointed out by Mark Kadzielski who is a nationally recognized health law and EMTALA expert.

“This settlement highlights the vulnerabilities of hospitals that are not well-equipped to handle psychiatric ‎patients,” he is quoted as saying in the report, “Warehousing mental health patients and not transferring them for a significant time period presents serious issues. Not admitting such patients at facilities where appropriate inpatient services are actually available is a clear violation. Hospital ERs must revaluate all of their policies in light of this settlement.”

The nearly $1.3 million settlement came as a result of numerous complaints about the AnMed emergency department. In an OIG press release, it is revealed that the health center was cited for no less than 36 incidents involving patients with psychiatric conditions. Allegedly, these patients were examined by an on-call psychiatrist and kept in the Emergency Department even though there were available beds in the hospital’s psychiatric unit.

In some cases, patients were kept there for over a month! “The practice of ‘boarding’ patients in the emergency department has generally been criticized by CMS, but is still relatively common for psychiatric patients, nationwide,” says Medlaw.com, “The practice has become more prevalent as state and private hospital psychiatric beds have steadily declined, and it has become more difficult to locate available beds to transfer psychiatric patients for facilities that do not have psychiatric capabilities.”

Evidently, the OIG is now looking to tackle this issue with more seriousness. The team, here at Allegiant Experts, certainly applauds the effort. We too, work to combat medical misconduct. If you’re a lawyer who could use the help of our clinical expert services in an upcoming case, please don’t hesitate to call us at 407-217-5831 or email us at info@allegiantexperts.com.