Eleven hospitals and one physician settled "patient dumping" charges in June, paying the federal government a total of $335,000.
Federal law prohibits the practice of denying basic medical screening to patients because they lack the ability to pay. The 1986 law also prohibits the transfer of medically unstable patients based on economic reasons.
The maximum civil monetary penalty for patient dumping is $50,000 per violation.
The highest of the new $70,000-was paid by 391-bed North Ridge Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In an unrelated probe, HHS' inspector general's office is looking at whether North Ridge, which is owned by Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., deliberately overpaid for physician practices in exchange for patient referrals (May 23, p. 3).
Tenet spokesman Lance Ignon said the hospital chose to settle the charges to avoid the expense and uncertainty associated with a trial.
Other hospitals that settled patient-dumping charges in June include Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis, Ore.; Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Neb.; Scripps Memorial Hospital in Chula Vista, Calif.; North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville; Wellmont Lonesome Pine Hospital in Big Stone Gap, Va.; Coffee Medical Center in Manchester, Tenn.; Brownsville (Texas) Medical Center; Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield, N.J.; Winslow (Ariz.) Memorial Hospital; and Columbia Clearwater (Fla.) Community Hospital.
None of the hospitals admitted to any wrongdoing or liability. All will have to run advertisements in their local newspapers reminding the public that their emergency rooms are open to all patients regardless of their ability to pay.
In addition, Khan Brown, M.D., a physician associated with Muhlenberg, paid $20,000 to settle similar charges. Brown did not admit to any wrongdoing.
MODERN HEALTHCARE obtained copies of the settlements last week through the federal Freedom of Information Act.