Georgia system fired physician for voicing concerns over ED policy, suit says

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An emergency physician filed a lawsuit against Warner Robins, Ga.-based Houston Healthcare Nov. 19, claiming he was fired in retaliation for reporting concerns about the system's admitting practices, according to court documents obtained by Becker's.

Rick Nulph, MD, served as director of the emergency department at the system's Perry Hospital from September 2017 to June 2021 through a placement by Houston County Emergency Group, a subsidiary of physician management services company ApolloMD.

For a 10-day period in May, Houston Healthcare leadership enacted a policy instructing clinicians not to admit "city call" patients who sought care at Perry Hospital's ED, the suit claims. These patients do not have an existing relationship with a physician at the hospital and are often uninsured, meaning the hospital is not compensated for treating these patients. These patients were instead transferred to larger medical facilities in the area. 

"By transferring these 'city call' patients to other facilities other than in accordance with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act's provisions, [Houston Healthcare] engaged in the dumping of patients based on an actual or perceived inability to pay and other improper economic motives," the suit claims.

Dr. Nulph was told to follow the policy even after he raised concerns with superiors about its potential violation of EMTALA. After Dr. Nulph filed a formal complaint with HHS' Office of Inspector General on May 24, he was immediately removed from his ED director position and had all of his shifts taken away, the suit claims. Houston Healthcare also allegedly demanded that ApolloMD terminate its agreement with Dr. Nulph, which the company did.

Dr. Nulph is seeking unspecified damages in the suit.

Editor's note: Becker's has reached out to Houston Healthcare for comment and will update the article as more information becomes available.

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