Can a Hospital Refuse to Treat or Admit?

March 22, 2017

Hospitals generally have a duty to help those who are injured and suffering.  Hospitals that refuse to treat or admit the injured and the ill may be responsible for any further harm.  Contact a Doylestown accident attorney at Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC today at 888-777-7098 if you or a loved one was denied treatment by a hospital.

Why Would a Hospital Refuse to Admit or Treat?

Hospitals are not required to treat every patient that seeks medical help.  Unfortunately, hospitals operate as businesses.  Treating patients – especially the uninsured – is expensive.  Therefore, hospitals make business decisions in relation to how (and even if) a patient should be admitted or treated.

Other reasons a hospital may choose not to admit or treat include:

  • The facility does not have the appropriate medical staff or equipment to treat the illness or injury.
  • The hospital has limited resources and cannot possibly manage all cases that come to it.
  • The facility has reason to believe that the patient would be better served at another hospital.

There are, of course, inappropriate reasons that a hospital may deny you treatment.  A hospital cannot deny you treatment because of your age, sex, religious affiliation, and certain other characteristics.

You should always seek medical attention if and when you need it.  In some instances, hospitals can be held liable for injuries or deaths that result from refusing to admit or treat a patient.

When Can a Hospital be Liable for Injuries Caused by Refusing to Admit or Treat?

There are certain times that a hospital can be liable for injuries caused by refusing to admit or treat a patient.  Denial based on a patients protected class (age, sex, religion, etc.) is improper and can open the hospital to liability for injuries suffered by the patient that are a result of the hospital’s denial of services.

A hospital may also be liable for denying admittance or treatment where a patient presents a serious or life threatening illness or injury.  For example, a patient who is brought to the hospital after a car accident and who is in critical condition should be admitted or treated.  Of course, the hospital is entitled to compensation for the services it provides.

The U.S. government has recognized that patients should not be denied admittance or transferred based solely on financial calculations.  Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act to prevent the practice of patient “dumping”.  Patient dumping occurs when a hospital transfers a patient – for financial reasons – to another facility; often without consideration for the patient’s medical condition or needs.  Contact us immediately if you have been the victim of dumping.

Can Hospitals Refuse to Treat or Admit Patients Who Don’t Have Health Insurance?

What if you don’t have health insurance? If a hospital assumes you cannot afford to pay because you don’t have health coverage, can it refuse to treat or admit you?

The answer to this question depends on why you are seeking treatment. In addition to prohibiting patient “dumping,” the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) also prohibits covered hospitals from denying treatment to patients who have medical emergencies. If you seek treatment for any of the following, a covered hospital cannot legally deny treatment based on your health insurance status:

  • You have a severe or life-threatening condition;
  • You are experiencing serious impairment of an organ or bodily function; or,
  • You are about to give birth.

What If I Don’t Have a Medical Emergency and I Don’t Have Insurance?

If you don’t have a medical emergency and you don’t have health insurance, you have options available to you. As the Pennsylvania Insurance Department explains, “Free & Charitable Clinics are safety-net health care organizations that utilize a volunteer/staff model to provide a range of health services. . . . and Federally Qualified Health Centers . . . provide comprehensive primary and preventive care for all ages, regardless of your ability to pay or health insurance status.” Depending on your financial circumstances, you may qualify for coverage through various state and federal government assistance programs as well.

Patients’ Rights in Pennsylvania

As a patient in Pennsylvania, you have several important rights. Along with the rights discussed above, these include:

  • The Right to Know the Hospital’s Policies, Rules and Regulations – You are entitled to know a hospital’s policies regarding triage, admittance and denial of care based on insurance status when seeking treatment.
  • The Right to Clear Communication – You are also entitled to have the hospital’s policies explained to you in a language you can understand. Additionally, if a hospital refuses to treat or admit you, it should explain where else you can go for care.
  • The Right to Emergency Care – As discussed above, if you are seeking emergency care at a hospital covered under EMTALA, you have the right to care regardless of your insurance status.
  • The Right to Be Free from Discriminatory Treatment – Under no circumstances can a hospital in Pennsylvania refuse to treat or admit you based on your age, sex, gender, race, color or other protected characteristic.
  • The Right to Be Free from Other Forms of Mistreatment – Along with the right to be free from discriminatory treatment, you have the right to be free from other forms of mistreatment as well. This includes denying care for any other invalid reason, as well as making you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable due to a lack of health insurance or limited financial means.

If you believe that a hospital in Pennsylvania has violated any of your rights, you should consult with a lawyer promptly. At Drake, Hileman & Davis, our lawyers can help you understand the options you have available, and if warranted, we can pursue a claim for financial compensation on your behalf. 

Why is It Important to Have a Personal Injury Attorney Working With Me?

An experienced personal injury attorney can often identify key legal issues that may mean the difference between you receiving the compensation you deserve, or not.  At Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC we understand the importance of looking at a case from all angles.

A Doylestown accident attorney at Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC is here to help if you have been injured due to the recklessness of a hospital or other treating facility.  Your life and health is more important than money.