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EMTALA & Substance Abuse Treatment In Florida


The Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal law passed in 1986 which states that emergency rooms must stabilize and treat all visitors, regardless of their insurance (or lack thereof) or general ability to pay. (Florida has its own comparable state law, but the federal law is generally wider-reaching.) While this sounds noble on its face, in reality it has been largely an “unfunded mandate” since its inception, which means that the treatment a patient receives may be minimal or even nothing at all. One area, however, where EMTALA enforcement has been improving is in the realm of mental health and substance abuse care. If you have been denied treatment for substance abuse-related issues, know that you may have a case you can pursue.

Aimed At Preventing “Patient Dumping”

The federal EMTALA was originally passed as a part of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), and referred to as the “anti-dumping” law because before its passage, hospitals would unceremoniously transfer Medicaid (or uninsured) patients to public hospitals, where they would, at least in theory, receive suboptimal care. EMTALA requires that any hospital that participates in Medicare must refrain from this behavior, and provide stabilizing treatment to any and all visitors to the emergency department who present with emergency medical conditions.

This becomes a particular issue for those in need of substance abuse treatment, because EMTALA also requires that if a patient needs to be transferred, a screening must be done beforehand to discover whether the patient has acute needs (that is, whether an emergency medical condition exists). If these screenings are not done – and sometimes, they are not – it can place certain patients in exceedingly vulnerable positions. A Missouri case from 2016, for example, was settled after Belton Regional Medical Center allegedly violated EMTALA by transferring two patients with high blood alcohol levels (BALs) without medical screenings.

Facility Negligence Can Cost Lives

EMTALA enforcement can play a major role in saving those who are abusing substances from doing serious damage to themselves, but sometimes, treatment center policy can actually work against that aim. For example, if someone uses an illicit substance while in rehab, they are very often discharged from that facility – and very often, they wind up in the emergency room, where they may not get the care they need if a hospital does not perform its duties under EMTALA.

If a hospital is negligent or fails to comply with EMTALA, there are consequences – but in general, it is the patient who must pursue them, by either filing a personal injury lawsuit or a complaint with the Centers for Medicaid Services. However, few EMTALA enforcement actions are filed, at least in Florida, primarily because patients very often miss the 2-year statute of limitations (and this goes double for those experiencing withdrawal or other addiction treatment complications).

Contact A Tampa Substance Abuse Rehab Attorney

If you are struggling with addiction, you deserve the medical care you need to get you stabilized and in a place to seek help. A Tampa treatment center negligence attorney from the Rinaldo Law Group can help to protect your rights, while you focus on getting back to physical health and getting your life together. We are happy to try and assist you with your case. Call us today at (813) 831-9999 for a free consultation.



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