Green Bay, WI asked in Health Care Law and Medical Malpractice for Texas

Q: Is it illigal for a hospital to deny medical care to someone requesting it?

My boyfriend's sister was just found dead in a hospital stairwell. Police report states that she attempted to be admitted into the hospital but she was unable to give hospital staff her name or information and so they denied her care, she died within hours of being denied care.

1 Lawyer Answer
John Michael Frick
John Michael Frick
  • Frisco, TX
  • Licensed in Texas

A: A patient is typically required to provide insurance and payment information before seeing a doctor. But, under a federal law known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), an emergency department must treat or stabilize anyone who has an emergency regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

This does not mean that a person is entitled to whatever medical treatment they want simply by going to a hospital. The person must have a medical emergency. Many people go to hospitals for routine or chronic health problems like diabetes or asthma. These are not necessarily “medical emergencies.”

Hospitals are often big institutions with lots of doctors and other personnel, many of whom are not appropriately trained to handle emergencies. Therefore, the rule only applies to emergency departments.

Assuming the person has a medical emergency and arrives at an emergency department, personnel must provide an emergency medical screening and treatment to stabilize the patient. But that does not mean they must treat them until they’re cured. Many cures and treatments require the long term services of specialists. For example, a person with cancer may require surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment. The law only requires the emergency department to stabilize a patient, for example stopping uncontrolled bleeding, restarting their heart, ensuring they are breathing on their own, etc.

A violation of this law can result in stiff fines to the facility and doctors, and may result in loss of licensure.

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