Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, N.Y., has settled charges that it "dumped" patients for economic reasons in violation of federal law.
The 349-bed hospital has paid a $15,000 civil monetary penalty with interest.
Mercy is the fifth hospital to settle patient-dumping charges in 1997. The settlement was reached Sept. 10. MODERN HEALTHCARE recently obtained a copy of the settlement under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
In addition to paying the fine, Mercy Hospital must publish two newspaper advertisements to remind residents of the Buffalo area that they will receive care in Mercy's emergency room, regardless of ability to pay.
A 1986 federal law requires hospitals to provide basic medical screenings to emergency patients. They also are prohibited from transferring emergency patients with unstable medical conditions or women in labor to other facilities for economic reasons.
The maximum civil monetary penalty for dumping is $50,000 for each violation.
HHS' inspector general's office said Mercy failed to provide proper screenings for two emergency room patients on two different occasions in 1994.
"After reviewing the charges and doing our own internal investigation, we agreed with the findings (of the government)," said JoAnn Cavanaugh, system director of public relations at Mercy. "We have taken steps to prevent that in the future. We have new protocols now in place."