Mental Health “Patient Dumping” in the Twenty-First Century

Edward M. O’Brien

In 1986, Congress passed and President Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) to address the issue of “patient dumping,” whereby hospitals fail to adequately treat low-income or indigent patients in need of urgent care and instead “dump” them on other hospitals, local health organizations, or state-operated facilities. Under EMTALA, hospitals receiving federal funds must perform a medical screening upon any individual who comes to the emergency room and, if the hospital determines that an emergency medical condition exists, stabilize the condition or provide for an appropriate transfer to another facility with a higher level of care, regardless of and without inquiry into the patient’s ability to pay.

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