Penn Hospital Sued Over Alleged Failure to Admit Uninsured Patient

This post was authored by Rodd Santomauro and posted to The Eye Opener on March 5th, 2010.

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What if you needed emergency life-saving surgery, were told that a hospital would accept you, but then you were suddenly turned away because you had no health insurance?  This is what is alleged in a lawsuit recently filed in Pennsylvania.

An article, posted by the Philadelphia Inquirer, details the horrific story of Mr. Marcus Murray, who was allegedly turned away from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, after being initially accepted from another hospital, Underwood Memorial:

Murray, a contractor and laborer, was driving home to Felton, Del., from South Jersey on May 2, 2008, when he began experiencing chest pain and weakness, hospital records show.An ambulance reached him at 7:09 p.m.At 7:27 p.m. in the emergency room at Underwood, a nurse noted he was pale, sweating profusely and complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath.He was moved to a bed, and it was noted that his blood pressure was dangerously low.He was taken for a CT scan at 10:50 p.m.The scan revealed a “complex dissection of the thoracic and abdominal aorta,” an emergency that required treatment by a cardiothoracic surgeon.Underwood lacks open-heart-surgery capability, so Murray needed to be transferred to another hospital.At 10:54 p.m., according to Murray’s Underwood records, Sidwa made a note that Penn had agreed to accept Murray, and efforts were made to get a helicopter to transport him to Philadelphia.But helicopter transport was impossible because of bad weather, Sidwa noted at 11:39 p.m. Sidwa then wrote that he had spoken with Woo, the Penn surgeon, who told him that Murray was “not accepted at this time due to various reasons.”A nurse’s note in Murray’s records at 11:56 p.m. said Penn “refused to accept patient due to no medical insurance. “Sidwa then contacted Christiana Hospital in Delaware and arranged for an ambulance to transfer him.Murray left Underwood at 1:44 a.m. on May 3 and arrived at Christiana half an hour later.He was taken to an operating room and suffered a cardiac arrest at 3:07 a.m. while being given anesthesia, the lawsuit stated.

The suit alleges violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA),  so it was filed in federal court.  This Act protects public access to emergency medical services, regardless of the ability to pay.  Mr. Murray’s lawyer stated that Mr. Murray suffered brain damage and blindness as a result of a lack of timely care as well as a delayed transfer.  Ultimately, Mr. Murray ended up at Christiana Hospital in Delaware, where he received the care he needed, albeit much too late.

In response to these allegations, Susan E. Phillips, Penn’s Medical Chief of Staff,  stated, “We welcome the opportunity to defend our actions in this case.”  She further went on to state that “unless we lack the medical capacity to accommodate a transfer due to the needs of existing critically ill patients already being cared for in our hospitals, we routinely accept urgent patient transfers when medically safe.”

It certainly appears that she and the hospital are going to get their wish – the “opportunity” to defend [their] actions.

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