Allegations of illegal patient "dumping" have cost three more hospitals a total of $24,000.
The three settlements bring to 15 the number of hospitals that settled patient dumping charges by the federal government last year.
The settlements were reached in July 1996. MODERN HEALTHCARE*obtained information about them last week under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The latest hospitals to ante up are 95-bed St. Joseph's Hospital, Buckhannon, W.Va., and two Iowa hospitals, 31-bed Madison County Memorial in Winterset and 28-bed Hegg Memorial in Rock Valley.
St. Joseph's paid a $10,000 civil monetary penalty, Madison County paid a $9,000 fine, and Hegg Memorial paid $5,000.
In addition to the fines, the hospitals had to publish local newspaper advertisements reminding people that they treat anyone who comes to the emergency room, regardless of ability to pay (See box).
None of the hospitals admitted wrongdoing.
A 1986 law forbids hospitals from transferring medically unstable patients or women in labor to other hospitals for monetary reasons. The law also requires hospitals to give basic medical screenings to patients who come to their emergency rooms.
In the case of St. Joseph's, HHS' inspector general's office accused the hospital of not accepting a transfer patient in March 1995, in part because of the person's insurance status.
Wayne Griffith, chief executive officer of the hospital, said that's not what happened. He said the patient was covered by Medicaid and had been treated in the hospital's psychiatric unit five times before. Hospital staff members told the patient there was nothing else they could do for her.
"I absolutely believe that is 100% the case," he said. "It's ludicrous to think we would turn someone away."
In 1995, the year the incident happened, St. Joseph's provided at least $2 million in charity care, Griffith said. A Roman Catholic hospital, it is part of the Sisters of the Pallottine Missionary Society.
Meanwhile, HHS accused Madison County Memorial of not giving an appropriate exam when someone asked for treatment at the emergency room in November 1993. The person, who had an emergency condition, was discharged without being stabilized and without the arrangement of a transfer to another hospital.
The hospital, which declined to comment, disputed HHS' allegations in its settlement agreement. It's not clear what happened to the patient.
HHS also accused Hegg Memorial of failing to give someone an appropriate medical screening exam at the emergency room in December 1992. In addition, the government said the hospital didn't provide either stabilizing treatment or a transfer to another hospital. It's not clear what happened to the patient.