Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (7)8 Aug '99

Quick Summary: The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) gives broad legal protection to patients who come to hospital emergency rooms experiencing medical emergencies.

That legal protection also extends to patients who enter the hospital as non-emergency cases, but who experience a medical emergency for the first time while in the hospital.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently made this point. A mother was admitted for an expected routine childbirth. Her physician ruptured her membranes, got meconium in the amniotic fluid and did a cesarean. The baby was born in respiratory distress. Arrangements were made to transfer the baby to another facility’s neonatal ICU.

However, the court faulted the hospital for not stabilizing the baby before transfer, that is, for not first dealing with a life-threatening pneumothorax. Lopez-Soto v. Hawayek, 175 F. 3d 170 (1st Cir., 1999).