3 hospitals accused of EMTALA violations in 2023

At least three hospitals have been accused of violating the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act this year in cases in which they allegedly did not provide appropriate care to pregnant patients experiencing medical emergencies. 

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, providers across the nation were left to navigate a patchwork of state restrictions on abortion. HHS aimed to add clarity to the nation's shifting abortion landscape a month later when it issued guidance to hospitals underscoring that abortion is covered under EMTALA, a decades-old federal law requiring Medicare hospitals to provide all patients appropriate emergency care.  

This includes "an appropriate medical screening, examination, stabilizing treatment and transfer, if necessary, irrespective of any state laws or mandates that apply to specific procedures." HHS previously specified that "stabilizing treatment could include medical and/or surgical interventions, including abortion," and that EMTALA preempts state law where abortion is prohibited and does not make exceptions for the health or life of a pregnant person. 

In September, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint with HHS accusing Oklahoma Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City of denying an abortion to a woman with a "dangerous" and "nonviable pregnancy." The complaint was filed on behalf of a 26-year-old Oklahoma resident, Jaci Statton, who was transferred to the facility, where medical staff allegedly acknowledged the woman's condition was "serious and that pregnancy was threatening her life" but said they were unable to provide an abortion until her condition deteriorated further. Ms. Statton ended up traveling out of state to receive care. 

Becker's previously reached out to the hospital and HHS and will update this story if more information becomes available. 

In May, CMS launched probes into two hospitals — Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, Mo., and the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kan. — for allegedly failing to provide stabilizing care to a pregnant patient who was advised her pregnancy was no longer viable. The patient was nearly 18 weeks pregnant when she experienced a premature rupture of membranes. 

"Although her doctors advised her that her condition could rapidly deteriorate, they also advised that they could not provide her with the care that would prevent infection, hemorrhage and potentially death because, they said, the hospital policies prohibited treatment that could be considered an abortion," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a letter to hospitals regarding the investigations at the time. "This was a violation of the EMTALA protections that were designed to protect patients like her." 

An HHS spokesperson told CNN that both hospitals were working toward compliance with the federal law in May. Becker's has reached out to HHS regarding the status of the probes and will update the report if more information becomes available. 

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