S.C. hospital to pay $1.3 million in EMTALA settlement
A South Carolina hospital last month agreed to pay nearly $1.3 million in the largest-ever settlement for alleged violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.
AnMed Health, based in Anderson, S.C., and serving upstate South Carolina and northeast Georgia, reached a settlement with HHS’ Office of Inspector General over allegations that in 2012 and 2013 it held patients with unstable psychiatric conditions in its emergency department without providing appropriate psychiatric treatment in 36 incidents.
“Instead of being examined and treated by on-call psychiatrists, patients were involuntarily committed, treated by ED physicians and kept in AnMed’s ED for days or weeks instead of being admitted to AnMed’s psychiatric unit for stabilizing treatment,” according to the settlement agreement.
The patients—most of whom were suicidal and/or homicidal and suffered from serious mental illness—were held in the ED from six to 38 days. In each of these incidents, AnMed had on-call psychiatrists and beds available in its psychiatric unit to evaluate and stabilize the patients.
But it did not provide examination or treatment by a psychiatrist, according to the settlement agreement.
AnMed did not admit to liability under the settlement deal. In a written statement, AnMed said it had been a longstanding policy for its behavioral health unit to accept only voluntarily admitted patients, while patients who were to be involuntarily admitted were held in the ED until they could be transported to the state mental hospital.
The shortage of space in that facility often prolonged psychiatric patients’ stays in the AnMed ED, the statement said.
AnMed has engaged in significant corrective action, including adding more training for staff and security to protect other patients and plans to expand its psychiatric inpatient unit from 15 to 34 beds by yearend.
“That’s one of the reasons why the penalty was not even higher,” said Sandra Sands, a senior attorney with the OIG who has been handling EMTALA cases since 1989. “They were very cooperative with the OIG during the investigation, and it appears they did things that went beyond what was required.”