Physicians Without Contracts Considered 'Employees' for EMTALA Whistleblower Protection

The United States District Court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin held that physicians who have a medical staff appointment and clinical privileges at a hospital are considered hospital employees and are protected under the Emergency Treatment and Active Labor Act's whistleblower protection provision, even if they do not have a formal employment agreement, according to a Lexology report.

Kamal Muzaffar, MD, filed a lawsuit against Aurora Health Care Southern Lakes in Kenosha, Wis., claiming Aurora "retaliated" against him for reporting patient transfers violating EMTALA.

The EMTALA prohibits hospitals from refusing emergency care to patients or inappropriately transferring patients before their condition is stabilized, even if they are unable to pay.

Dr. Muzaffar was contracted by Aurora to provide physician services and provided on-call coverage for emergency services, but he did not have a formal employee agreement with the hospital. The main issue of the case was determining whether or not Dr. Muzaffar was protected under the employee whistleblower provision of EMTALA.

The court ruled that Dr. Muzaffar would be considered an employee for purposes of the whistleblower protection provision because not doing so would be contradictory to the goal of the statute. Not doing so "would leave unprotected a group of people in an 'advantageous position' to observe and report potential violations. This would be 'demonstrably at odds' with the purpose of the statute as well as the intentions of the drafters, which were to provide protection to those reporting violations," according to the judge's decision.

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