Maine hospitals turned mental health patients away from ER, state finds

Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, both in Lewiston, Maine, are pledging to revise policies and increase staff education after turning away mental health patients from the emergency room, which is a form of patient dumping illegal under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, The Portland Press Herald reports.

Four things to know:

1. The two hospitals illegally turned away ER patients in mental health crises and had patients arrested for trespassing in some cases, according to documents from the hospitals and state licensing inspectors cited by the Press Herald. EMTALA requires Medicare-participating hospitals to screen and stabilize ER patients.

2. Inbound EMTs were sometimes told to take patients to different facilities and ER personnel questioned paramedics about why they were bringing in someone with a mental health issue. The hospitals also called the police to arrest "uncooperative" patients, and patients who were arrested had their hospital records altered or deleted, investigators found.

3. Both hospitals submitted plans to correct the violations to avoid losing Medicare funding. For example, CMMC said it will better train employees on the EMTALA, develop a process to ensure disruptive patients are assessed and implement a barrier in the electronic registration log to avoid emergency patients' names being deleted after entered in the system.

"Central Maine Medical Center has taken steps to prevent future incidents such as the one which earlier this year triggered [the investigations] at both local hospitals," a CMMC spokesperson told the Press Herald. "Signage has been improved, and substantial training in rules and protocol was undertaken. A recent inspection by CMS found that appropriate steps were taken and the investigation was closed." 

4. Links to statements of deficiencies and plans of correction for both hospitals are available on the Disability Rights Maine website, drme.org.

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