A second Florida hospital owned by Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. has settled charges that it violated the federal patient "dumping" law by discharging emergency department patients without appropriate medical screenings.
Columbia Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Fla., has agreed to pay a $55,000 civil monetary penalty to resolve the charges. Under the agreement, the 292-bed hospital owned by the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain admits to no wrongdoing.
HHS' inspector general's office accused the hospital of violating the law twice in 1995 by failing to provide a basic medical screening to two patients who visited the hospital's emergency department on two separate occasions.
The 1986 law bars hospitals from transferring medically unstable patients or women in labor to other hospitals for economic reasons. It also requires hospitals to provide basic medical screenings to all patients who show up in their emergency departments.
In addition to the $55,000 fine, the hospital agreed to run two newspaper advertisements that say the hospital examines all emergency patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay (See graphic).
The fine is the highest paid by a hospital under a single dumping settlement with the government, according to records compiled by MODERN HEALTHCARE. But the amount covers two alleged incidents of dumping. The maximum fine for a hospital with 100 or more beds is $50,000 per violation.
A hospital spokeswoman referred questions to the hospital's attorney, Robert Templin, in Columbia's Nashville office. Templin, in turn, declined comment and referred questions to the chain's corporate communications office, which didn't return a phone call.
HHS signed the settlement on Jan. 29. MODERN HEALTHCARE*obtained a copy of the agreement last week under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The hospital is the second Columbia facility to settle a dumping case recently. Last September, Aventura Hospital and Medical Center in Miami paid a $15,000 fine to settle patient dumping charges (Nov. 27, 1995, p. 31).
Meanwhile, two other hospitals also entered into settlements with HHS over alleged cases of patient dumping. North Ridge Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a 280-bed facility, agreed to pay a $23,500 civil monetary penalty for an alleged dumping incident in 1994; and 103-bed New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in Manhattan agreed to pay a $22,500 fine to resolve an alleged dumping incident dating back to 1992.
HHS signed the North Ridge and New York Eye and Ear settlements on Jan. 18. Neither North Ridge nor New York Eye and Ear admitted to any violation of federal law.