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Oregon Man Dies Waiting for Ambulance at ER

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 17, 2011 8:46 AM

At 61, Birgilio Marin-Fuentes knew it was time to head to the hospital. Getting in his car at a little past midnight, he drove less than two miles to Portland Adventist Medical Center. Pulling into the emergency room parking lot, he suffered a heart attack, crashing into a steel pillar. He was only 125 feet from the emergency room entrance, reports The Oregonian.

Twenty minutes later, two officers were called to the scene. While one performed CPR, the other ran back into the hospital for help. He was rebuffed.

Despite being just outside the ER, the officer was told he must call an ambulance, reports Reuters.

Though it was obvious that the man could have died outside the ER, the charge nurse stuck to the long-held hospital policy of requiring on-premises emergencies to be handled through 911. She did, however, send a paramedic and defibrillator with the officers, notes The Oregonian.

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer is calling for an investigation into the hospital to see whether it violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act by requiring the officers to call for an ambulance when it could have sent personnel right away.

What is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act?

Prior to 1986, hospitals in the United States had no obligation to treat someone should they walk into an emergency room. This resulted in patient dumping--discharging patients with potentially serious injuries because they could not pay. Many of the stories of patients who died outside the ER come from this practice.

To stop these practices, Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. Under the Act, all hospitals that receive Medicare funds must treat patients that seek medical care in the emergency room regardless of whether or not they have insurance. They must be provided with a proper screening to determine if there is an emergency medical condition or if they are in labor. If such a condition presents itself, the hospital must then treat or stabilize the patient until the patient can be moved to a proper facility.

Hospitals that negligently violate the Act are subject to fines in addition to any lawsuits that may be brought by the patient.

Thirty-five minutes after initial contact with the police, the man who could have died outside the ER, did die outside the ER. The hospital maintains that it followed protocol, notes Reuters, stating that only ambulances are equipped with the proper tools to respond to automobile crashes.

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