Feds probe Colorado hospital for "patient dumping"

One Colorado hospital allegedly used jail as a last resort for patients with psychiatric complications (Photo: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters).
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Brooks Hays

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is investigating a hospital in Littleton, Colorado for "dumping" unstable psychiatric patients on jails and rehabs, the Denver Post reports.

The probe into Littleton Adventist Hospital by CMS, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), alleges the hospital neglected to complete psychiatric evaluations ordered by doctors and prematurely transferred patients without weighing the potential risks or following up on their health and safety.

The Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, commonly known as the patient anti-dumping statute, was enacted in 1986 to ensure that hospitals provide emergency services without regard to a patient's insurance coverage or ability to pay.

Littleton Adventist says it has since developed a plan to remedy the issues outlined by CMS. Denver's regional Medicare office confirms that state health inspectors will follow up with the hospital to ensure the plan is being carried out.

Because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is the main source of revenue for Littleton Adventist and many other hospitals, the agency investigates patient dumping and other abuses.

The proble is not limited to Littleton, Colorado, and has been a persistent thorn in HHS's side. In 2009, two California hospitals made headlines when they agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle allegations of sending as many as 150 unstable homeless patients to shelters in Los Angeles.

The anti-dumping statute requires hospitals to stabilize all patients, with psychiatric problems or otherwise, before transferring or discharging them. HHS's Office of Inspector General reports that it settled eight patient-dumping cases last year, and one so far this year.