The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires hospital emergency rooms in Providence and throughout the rest of the country to provide medical treatment in emergency situations, regardless of a patient's ability to pay. This helps to avoid a failure to diagnose those conditions that could be prove to be life-threatening if left untreated. Under EMTALA, an emergency is defined as any condition manifested by symptoms severe enough to reasonably expect to result in serious injury or impairment to an individual or unborn child. Under this provision, expectant mothers are also required to be seen for conditions related to their labor.
EMTALA requires that patients receive a medical screening to determine the presence of an emergency medical condition. If such a condition exists, hospital staff is required to either stabilize the patient or arrange transfer to a facility with the capability of doing so. Care cannot be delayed to determine a patient's insurance coverage or potential means of payment.
According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, over $1.8 billion has been paid in EMTALA violations since it was first enacted in 2000. Providers found to be in violation of EMTALA can be subject to the following penalties:
- Hospital and physician fines between $25,000 and $50,000 for each violation
- Loss of the provider's Medicare provider agreement
- Potential civil action from patients for delayed treatment
While not meant to serve as legal advice, those who feel as though they've been victims of EMTALA violations are encouraged to contact the proper authorities. Those can include the state health department, patient advocacy associations, or an attorney.