A hospital lawfully discontinued the services of a physician who complained about overcrowded emergency room conditions, a federal appeals court found in Genova v. Banner Health; et al., No. 12-1314 (10th Cir. August 20, 2013), rejecting the physician’s claims that the hospital and its administrator violated the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”) and Colorado state law by discontinuing his services.
The hospital discontinued the physician’s services after he called a hospital administrator insisting that the hospital’s emergency room was too busy and that patients should be diverted to other hospitals. The administrator consulted with another physician on duty in the emergency room that night who reported that it was busy, but that the hospital could handle the workload. Citing the first physician’s unprofessional manner on this and other occasions, the administrator decided to discontinue the physician’s services.
The physician sued the hospital and the administrator in federal district court alleging that by discontinuing his services for reporting overcrowded emergency room conditions, they had violated EMTALA and state law. The district court granted the hospital and the administrator summary judgment and the physician appealed to the Tenth Circuit.
The Tenth Circuit explained that the basic statutory point of EMTALA is that a hospital cannot “dump” a patient requiring emergency care on another hospital when there is no medical justification for doing so. The whistleblower provisions of EMTALA protect certain persons who refuse to transfer a patient with an emergency medical condition who has not been stabilized or who report a violation of EMTALA. The Tenth Circuit noted that in this case, instead of complaining that he was retaliated against for refusing to transfer a patient, the physician wanted to send patients elsewhere and instead of complaining about patient dumping, he complained about patient hoarding. Since neither scenario is protected by EMTALA’s whistleblower provisions, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the EMTALA claims.
The Tenth Circuit also affirmed the dismissal of the state law claims, finding the physician had released these claims. The physician’s contract with the hospital included a provision releasing the hospital from any liability connected with the termination of his medical staff membership and clinical privileges. The Tenth Circuit found this release barred the physician’s state law claims. The Tenth Circuit also rejected the physician’s claim that enforcing the release would violate Colorado public policy because the physician failed to identify any Colorado statute, administrative regulation, or ethical code clearly mandating the reporting of patient overcrowding.