Three more hospitals have agreed to pay a total of $75,000 in fines to settle charges that they violated the federal patient "dumping" law.
The 1986 law bars hospitals from transferring medically unstable patients or women in labor to other hospitals for economic reasons.
The act also requires hospitals to provide a basic medical screening to any patient who shows up in their emergency rooms.
The three new settlements bring to at least 12 the number of hospitals that settled patient dumping charges with the federal government in 1996.
MODERN HEALTHCARE*obtained copies of the three new settlements last week under the federal Freedom of Information Act. HHS' inspector general's office signed off on one deal last October. The other two were signed by HHS in November.
Of the three hospitals involved, Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, Calif., paid the largest civil monetary penalty: $40,000.
In this case, HHS' inspector general's office accused 315-bed Valley Presbyterian of refusing to accept a transfer of a critically ill infant from another facility. HHS said the infant needed the services of the hospital's pediatric intensive-care unit.
HHS said the incident occurred in November 1994. It identified the transferring hospital as Pacifica Hospital of the Valley in nearby Sun Valley, in Los Angeles County.
The settlement doesn't disclose what happened to the infant.
"Check with the hospital that treated her," said a spokeswoman for Valley Presbyterian. "We didn't treat the patient, and we're not comfortable commenting on the outcome."
Executives at Pacifica Hospital didn't respond to an interview request for comment on the case.
Under the settlement, Valley Presbyterian didn't admit to any wrongdoing. But in addition to the monetary penalty, it agreed to run two newspaper advertisements regarding its open emergency room treatment policy and acceptance of all Medicare and Medicaid patients.
Reflecting the situation that led to the settlement, the ads also say the hospital's specialized treatment services are open to all patients regardless of their ability to pay (See box).
The other two hospitals to settle dumping charges are 200-bed Columbia Clinch Valley Medical Center in Richlands, Va., and 40-bed Massena (N.Y.) Memorial Hospital.
HHS' inspector general's office accused Clinch Valley, which is owned by for-profit giant Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., of violating the dumping law on five separate occasions in 1995. In each case, HHS said the hospital's emergency room failed to provide the patients with basic medical screenings before they were sent away.
Clinch Valley denied the allegations but agreed to pay a $25,000 fine and to run two newspaper ads regarding its open emergency room policy.
Finally, not-for-profit Massena Memorial agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to settle charges that it failed to provide a basic medical screening to an emergency room patient in 1995. It, too, ran similar newspaper advertisements.
Like Valley Presbyterian, Clinch Valley and Massena Memorial admitted to no violation of federal law.