Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (4)8 May 96  PDF Version

   The hospital nursing and medical staff adhered to hospital guidelines by closely checking and documenting the patient’s condition while she was in the emergency department, and then by admitting her as an inpatient, as her condition could not be stabilized in the emergency department and warranted inpatient care.

   Emergency room records revealed that the patient was seen by a physician or nurse on thirteen occasions between her arrival at the emergency room at 10:30 am and her inpatient admission for acute recurrent pancreatitis at 4:30 pm the same day.

   During the early morning hours the next day, the medical/surgical nurses caring for her requested that her physician come to the hospital to examine her. It was not specified in the court record the reason the nursing staff made that request. The court noted, however, that the patient’s records did not reflect that any medical examination of the patient occurred during the early morning hours that day, and the court accepted this as proof that no medical examination was performed as requested by the nursing staff.

   The patient died at 6:00 am the morning after her in-patient admission. The family sued the hospital under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, because the physician failed to examine her on the med/surg floor. The U.S. District Court in Virginia dismissed the alleged EMTALA violations as unfounded.

   The physician who apparently failed to respond to the nursing staff’s request for a medical examination may have acted improperly. However, the issue for the court was whether the EMTALA had been violated. Since the patient was no longer in the emergency room when she died, the court ruled that the EMTALA did not apply. Hussain vs. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, 914 F. Supp. 1331 (E. D. Va., 1996).