In 2006 Palms West Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center failed to appropriately treat a child who was bleeding into the brain after being hit by a softball. As a direct result, the State of Florida has fined both St. Mary’s and Palm West Hospital hospitals and they have agreed to pay a combined meager $17,500.00 to the state. Although the settlement is a minor expense to the parent companies of Palms West and St. Mary’s, it is the largest state penalties levied against any hospital in this area over the past two years. In addition, both hospitals have changed how their emergency rooms handle emergency patients due to this and other incidents in which the hospitals failed to provide specialists in local emergency rooms.
After a thorough investigation of the incident, state inspectors fined St. Mary’s for their failure to adequately document how it handles emergency transfers from other hospitals. St. Mary’s was also was fined for their failure to provide emergency neurology services. (This was the type of specialist that was needed to render the proper treatment to the child at issue in this investigation.)
Several other local hospitals have been cited over the past five years for similar problems. In addition to fines and citations levied by the state, these patients and their families may be entitled to compensation for their injuries and /or death. Recently, another case of note is that of a Boca Raton woman who died after two hospital’s emergency rooms, West Boca Medical Center and Delray Medical Center were unable to find a neurosurgeon to render treatment to her following her stroke. Her family filed a medical malpractice suit and has received almost $2 million in a settlement.
It is clear that pursuant to state and federal “patient dumping” laws, hospitals that offer a specific service to insured and self-pay patients, also must offer the service for emergency patients. The reasoning behind this law is that hospitals that benefit financially from offering these specialists to their elective patients cannot refuse to provide them to their emergency room patients, some of whom may lack insurance coverage. This law prevents patients from being “dumped” onto other hospitals due to lack of insurance.
Lack of insurance should not determine the quality of care one receives when they are in need of emergent care in the hospital. Patients with severe and life threatening inures do not have luxury of time to shop around for the hospital that will have the necessary specialists to treat them with the degree of competence they deserve. If a patient who electively chooses a hospital for the high quality of their doctors can seek a specialist’s services, then an Emergency room patient in that same hospital should have the same right to be treated by the same high quality specialist. The practice of transferring ER patients to other hospitals at the expense of that patient’s well-being is morally repugnant and can not be justified by payment issues. This is emergent care- in many cases these patients must be attended to quickly in order to save their lives. Every second counts…their life depends on it.