When Hospital A was notified about the EMTALA claim against it, the hospital’s defense attorney sprung into action and filed a motion for summary judgment. Summary judgement can only be granted if the issue is not one of facts, but only an interpretation of law. The burden is on the moving party to show that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that judgment is entitled as a matter of law. Once the party moving for summary judgment (in this case Hospital A) has satisfied its burden of proof, the other party (Mrs P) must present facts showing there is a genuine dispute of material fact “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” If the other party cannot show this, the case will be dismissed. 

The court first noted that EMTALA applies to hospitals that participate in Medicare, and its purpose is to prevent patient dumping, where patients are sent to other hospitals if they do not have health insurance. EMTALA requires hospitals to screen patients who come to the emergency room and to provide the treatment required to stabilize a patient or transfer the patient if the hospital determines an emergency medical condition exists. The statute defines “emergency medical condition” as “a medical condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in (i) placing the health of the individual (or, with respect to a pregnant woman, the health of the woman or her unborn child) in serious jeopardy, (ii) serious impairment to bodily functions, or (iii) serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.”

A plaintiff must show the hospital actually knew the patient suffered from an emergency medical condition. If the patient is not stabilized, the patient can only be transferred if the patient makes a request, or if the medical benefits expected from treatment at the other medical facility outweigh the increased risks to the patient of the transfer. An appropriate transfer is one in which the receiving facility has available space and qualified personnel to treat the patient and has agreed to accept transfer and provide treatment to the patient.

The court noted that the four elements necessary for an EMTALA transfer claim are “(1) the patient had an emergency medical condition; (2) the hospital actually knew of that condition; (3) the patient was not stabilized before being transferred; and (4) the transferring hospital did not obtain the proper consent or certification before transfer and failed to follow appropriate transfer procedures.” The only issue before the court was whether Hospital A effected an appropriate transfer of Mrs P once it learned that Hospital B did not in fact have qualified personnel.

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Hospital A argued that it had been told by Hospital B, and believed, that Hospital B had qualified staff to treat Mrs P, and it did not find out otherwise until Mrs P was already in transit. Mrs P argued that Hospital A breached its unconditional duty, the duty to transfer to a hospital with available space and qualified personnel, under EMTALA. Mrs P did not dispute that Hospital A believed Hospital B had qualified personnel, but instead argued that Hospital A’s actual knowledge is immaterial to an EMTALA claim.

The court disagreed, holding that “when examining the EMTALA statute as a whole and case law interpreting the statute, the Court finds the requirement that an appropriate transfer be one in which the receiving facility has ‘available space and qualified personnel for the treatment of the individual’ is based on the transferring hospital’s actual knowledge. To read the statute any other way would require a transferring hospital to have a level of omniscience that is impossible.” The court dismissed the case against Hospital A.

Protecting Yourself

The most important thing to remember about EMTALA is that it requires Medicare-participating hospitals to stabilize, treat, or appropriately transfer patients with emergency medical conditions who come into the emergency department.