A federal district court judge for the Northern District of Illinois held that a woman who suffered a miscarriage after waiting in an emergency room at Sherman Hospital for 90 minutes to see a doctor could not seek recourse under a federal statute barring “patient dumping.” However, the judge stressed that the plaintiff may still have a viable negligence or medical malpractice claim under Illinois law against the emergency room personnel for misdiagnosis of plaintiff’s condition when she presented to the hospital complaining of severe abdominal pains.
Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”) to prevent “patient dumping”, the practice of hospitals and medical professionals refusing to treat patients who are unable to pay. See McCullum v. Silver Cross Hospital, 2001 WL 1516731 (N.D. ILL. Nov. 28,2001). Here, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that emergency room personnel violated the anti-dumping statute by failing to appropriately screen the plaintiff when she first arrived at the hospital.
Specifically, the court found that a negligent or deficient medical screen does not violate EMTALA. In this case, the hospital followed its “standard screening procedures,” which included the plaintiff being “triaged” within 10 minutes of her arrival at the hospital. The nurse determined that the plaintiff was an “urgent” patient, defined as someone who required care but could wait up to two hours without suffering serious harm.
Whether or not the medical screening in this case was negligent is more suited for a medical malpractice action under Illinois law, rather than a cause of action under EMTALA.