You Have the Right To Be Treated In The Emergency Room

     You have the right to be treated in a local hospital emergency room if you are in need of emergency medical treatment regardless of your citizenship, legal status or ability to pay.  In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed a law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) which requires hospitals and ambulance services to provide care to anyone needing emergency treatment.

     This law was passed to fight the practice of “patient dumping” where hospitals refused to treat people because the patient could not afford to pay for the treatment or they would transfer a patient because of the anticipated high costs of the treatment.

     Generally, under the EMTALA law, a hospital has the obligation to provide the patient with a medical screening examination to determine whether an emergency medical condition exists.  Examination and treatment cannot be delayed to inquire about methods of payment or a patient’s citizenship or legal status.  The emergency room must treat an individual who has an emergency medical condition until the condition is resolved or stabilized and the patient is able to provide care for himself following discharge from the hospital.  If the hospital does not have the capability to treat the condition, the hospital must make an appropriate transfer of the patient to another hospital that does have the capability to treat the patient.

     Under EMTALA, a patient is considered to be stable, therefore ending a hospital’s obligations for treatment under this law if:

  • The patient is conscious, alert, and oriented; and
  • The cause of all symptoms reported by the patient and all potentially life-threatening symptoms have been discovered by the hospital; and
  • Any conditions that threaten the patient’s life, limbs or organs have been treated to the best of the hospital’s ability to make sure the patient does not need further care; and
  • The patient is able to care for himself in breathing, feeding, dressing, medicating, communication, going to the bathroom and moving around
  •  Another competent person is available and able to meet the patient’s needs following discharge.

In addition to this protection under federal law, Louisiana also has adopted its own version of an EMTALA law which provides similar protections to patients in need of emergency medical treatment.  Although the federal law only applies to hospitals and ambulance services, Louisiana’s law also extends to physicians.

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