Two Kentucky hospitals, in Lexington and Prestonsburg, each lose $2.4 million in very different lawsuits over ‘patient dumping’

Two Kentucky hospitals have recently lost lawsuits that charged them with “patient dumping,” generally defined as discharging patients who are uninsured or unable to pay – or refusing to admit them in the first place, reports Andrew Wolfson of the Louisville Courier Journal. The judgments were virtually the same, but the cases were very different.

On Aug. 31, a Floyd County jury awarded $2.4 million to Ashley Shepherd, “who claimed Highlands ARH Medical Center retaliated against her after she refused to go along with an alleged scheme to boot out suicidal, psychotic and homicidal patents when their insurance coverage expired, usually after three days,” Wolfson reports. “Shepherd, a behavioral therapist, said she was directed by supervisors at the hospital in Prestonsburg to persuade patients they were no longer psychotic, suicidal or homicidal so they could be discharged when they could no longer pay or their insurance coverage ran out.”

Shepherd, a 36-year-old single mother, testified in a deposition, “I was told this is not a hotel.” ARH denied the charges, but the jury said it should pay $2 million in punitive damages.

On Sept. 13, a federal jury in Louisville “awarded $2,395,000 to tow-truck operator William “Tully” Williams, 65, whom Baptist Hospital Lexington turned away when he was transported there by EMS suffering from a dangerous type of heart attack” on Final Four weekend in April 2015, Wolfson reports. “The hospital said it had to ‘divert’ heart-attack patients because it didn’t have any cardiothoracic surgeons on call. . . . He had to be loaded back into an ambulance and taken to another hospital down the road. . . . His lawyer, Hans Poppe, said the hospital committed a ‘reckless comedy of errors,’ including failing to advise local ambulance services of its plans.”

Williams sued Baptist Health after the federal government found that the hospital violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act by failing to screen and stabilize Williams before sending him to the University of Kentucky hospital a mile away, Wolfson reports. The law allows fines of up to $100,000, or lets patients sue for more.

Baptist Health attorneys argued that the delay was “only a few minutes, but its own medical expert conceded it didn’t meet the standard of care,” Wolfson reports. The jury’s verdict included $1.85 million in punitive damages, which are designed to discourage similar conduct by the defendant and others. The case was tried by District Judge Claria Horn Boom.

Shepherd’s attorney, Jerry Patton of Prestonsburg, told Wolfson that his client’s award “sends a message to health-care providers who bear tremendous responsibility for the treatment and care of psychiatric patients that the law must be followed, and above all patient safety and care is paramount to any and all other considerations, including profit.”
Appalachian Regional Healthcare‘s chief legal officer, Cristi R. Lee, gave Wolfson a statement: “Patient care is always the top priority in all ARH locations, regardless of that patient’s ability to pay. Additionally, processes are in place to encourage all staff to make their voices heard should they want to suggest opportunities for improvement or have any concerns while working in our facilities.””She noted the case, tried before Judge Thomas Smith, involved one claim related solely to Shepherd’s employment and there were no claims of medical negligence,” Wolfson reports. “She said ARH was disappointed with how the law was applied and has asked Smith to overturn the verdict.”

In the other case, Baptist Health spokeswoman Kit Fullenlove Barry told Wolfson that the diversion of Williams said was a “rare and unusual occurrence. . . . While we are surprised and disappointed with the verdict, we are pleased that Mr. Williams received the care he needed and is doing well.” Baptist “said it later hired a consultant to train employees how to comply with the law,” Wolfson reports.

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