Four hospitals and one physician have agreed to pay a total of $307,500 to settle allegations of "patient dumping" at the facilities.
One of the hospitals, 105-bed McKenzie-Williamette Hospital in Springfield, Ore., agreed to pay $175,000, which is the highest single patient-dumping settlement yet this year.
A 1986 federal law prohibits patient dumping, or denying basic medical screenings to patients because they cannot pay. The law also prohibits transferring medically unstable patients for economic reasons.
The maximum civil monetary penalty for patient dumping is $50,000 per violation.
In its work plan for 1999, HHS' inspector general's office cited a crackdown on patient dumping as one of its top priorities (Oct. 19, p. 6).
Between January and August 1998, 39 healthcare institutions and physicians paid nearly $1.3 million to settle patient dumping allegations.
Federal investigators alleged that in 1996 McKenzie-Williamette failed to provide or delayed appropriate medical screening examinations to an unspecified number of patients entering the emergency room in order to ascertain whether the patients were insured.
Officials at McKenzie-Williamette were unavailable for comment.
In Salisbury, Md., 370-bed Peninsula Regional Medical Center agreed to pay $72,000 to settle allegations that it failed to give appropriate screenings to four patients who came to its emergency room.
In a prepared statement, hospital officials denied that Peninsula Regional violated the law. The hospital settled the charges to avoid the uncertainty and expense of litigation, the statement said.
Other parties that settled patient dumping charges are David McKelvey, M.D., a physician at Woman's Clinic in Little Rock, Ark., who paid $37,500; 32-bed Westfield (N.Y.) Memorial Hospital, which paid $15,500; and 38-bed Silverton (Ore.) Hospital, which paid $7,500.
None of the parties admitted to any wrongdoing or liability as part of the settlements.
All four hospitals must place advertisements in their local newspapers to remind the public that they are open to all community members regardless of their ability to pay. McKelvey did not have to place ads as a condition of his settlement.
MODERN HEALTHCARE obtained copies of the settlements recently through the federal Freedom of Information Act.