A man walking past the University of Maryland Medical Center came across a startling scene and caught part of it on camera: The hospital's security guard wheeled a patient to a nearby bus stop and left her there. The part caught on video shows four security guards, one with an empty wheelchair, walking away from the bus stop. Despite freezing temperatures, the patient wore only a thin hospital grown, socks, and no shoes. Bystander Imamu Baraka had just possibly captured on video a case of hospital "patient dumping."
In its current use, the term "patient dumping" was coined in the 1980s in reference to the nationwide practice of emergency departments in private hospitals refusing to examine or treat patients who are unable to pay for their services. In other words, it referred to neglecting the poor, uninsured, and oftentimes homeless. The hospitals would then "dump" the patients by transferring them to public hospitals or putting them back out on the streets.
Public outrage over this method of discharging patients led to the enactment of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that requires anyone coming to an emergency department to be stabilized and treated, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. Hospitals and physicians caught violating the law can face a fine up to $50,000 per violation and are subject to lawsuits. As services provided under the act are considered charity care with no reimbursement from the government, the American College of Emergency Physicians advocates that health insurers should help shoulder the cost.
In the Baltimore video that went viral, Baraka is heard saying, "It's about 30 degrees out here right now. Are you OK, ma'am? Do you need me to call the police?" She seems disoriented and he tells her repeatedly to "Come on and sit down." Baraka converses with the guards, and neither they nor the patient mention why she was discharged. "I'm going to call and get you some help," Baraka tells her before calling 911. The medics who arrived ended up taking her back to the same hospital.
The University of Maryland Medical System released a statement in response to the video and patient dumping accusation:
This unfortunate event is not representative of our patient-centered mission. While there are many circumstances of this patient’s case that we cannot address publicly, in the end we clearly failed to fulfill our mission with this patient, no matter the circumstances of her case or the quality of the clinical care we provided in the hospital (which is not depicted in the video).
This isn't the first time a health care facility has been accused of patient dumping. In 2016, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced that Good Samaritan Hospital would have to pay $450,000 to settle allegations that hospital dumped a homeless patient on the streets. Good Samaritan agreed to abide by strict discharge protocols but admitted to no wrongdoing in the settlement. The man was treated for a foot injury in downtown Los Angeles and then released with nothing but a bus token, according to Feuer's office.
At the time of the settlement, Los Angeles had collected $2 million in fees, fines and other payments from four hospitals that violated patient dumping regulations. In 2017, Chicago also investigated about 1,000 cases of patient dumping, CBS Chicago reported. Celeste Emrick claimed a nursing home discharged her by having two men drive her to a Chicago homeless shelter in the middle of the night, leaving her there without medication.
After Baraka posted the video admonishing the Baltimore hospital, officials said in a public statement they will investigate the incident that happened at its Baltimore campus.
Correction: A headline on a previous version of this post mischaracterized how widespread "patient dumping" is. It has been updated to reflect the incident captured on video.