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Some hospitals “dump” patients before they are ready

Imagine going to the emergency room to receive treatment for a serious condition, such as diabetes or chest pain. After the health care provider sees you, you feel groggy and disoriented, and may not have the mental capacity to give the doctor a phone number for a relative to pick you up. Despite being obviously unable to function on your own yet, hospital staff deems you ready for discharge and calls a taxi or walks you to the bus station. This nightmare situation sounds like something out of a dystopian movie, but unfortunately can occur to patients in Illinois and elsewhere.

The practice of discharging patients before they have fully recovered, or sending them into an uncertain or unsafe situation, is called “patient dumping,” according to Healthcare Dive. Unfortunately, patient dumping occurs more often than you would think. Hospitals are most likely to transport patients who are homeless, low-income or uninsured to shelters or pass them off to other hospitals – often, when the individuals are unable to make decisions for themselves or safely manage without assistance.

Mentally ill woman brought patient dumping to national spotlight

You may have heard about a story last December, in which a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, discharged a woman who was only wearing only socks and a hospital gown on a freezing night. Security guards escorted her to a bus stop and left her there, despite her obvious confusion and incoherence. A man recorded the incident and stepped in until authorities arrived to ensure she received adequate care before her family members, who had been looking for her, were able to pick her up.

Dumping patients may violate federal law

Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986 to protect those without the ability to pay. The law also prohibits medical centers from releasing patients into unsafe conditions. As you may imagine, this can include discharging patients when they are still experiencing a medical emergency or putting them on a bus when they are incoherent. It is important for you and your family members to understand your rights when it comes to hospital care.

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