‘It’s like I’m worthless’: Troubleshooters investigate patient dumping allegations
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - This story began December 1 at 5 p.m. with a phone call to our newsroom from a horrified University Hospital employee. The employee claimed security had just wheeled an elderly woman all the way out to the corner of Hancock and Ali, just off hospital property, dumped the woman out of the wheelchair on the sidewalk and left.
Minutes later, we shot video of her still in a soiled hospital gown and slippers, breathing hard under a blanket placed over her in 36 degree weather. Her stuff was in a bag next to her.
The caller claimed she saw this a lot.
So I started watching, and on December 16 at 7 p.m., 35 degrees outside, I recorded three security guards surrounding an elderly woman with a walker and slowly escorting her out of the emergency room.
She couldn’t move fast.
It took several minutes to make it all the way to the same corner of Hancock and Ali.
After they had her across the street off the hospital property, the security guards turned around and went back.
When they cleared I caught up to her. She said she couldn’t breathe.
“They told me I would not stay on the premises,” she said.
“Were you there as a patient?” I asked.
“I needed to be a patient because I’m sick,” she said.
“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.
“I’ve got COPD,” she said. “I got diabetes.”
“So they wouldn’t treat you?” I asked.
“The doctor talked to me for one minute,” she said.
“And told you what?” I said.
“That I had to leave,” she said.
“What reason did he give you?” I asked.
“He didn’t give me a reason,” she said.
She told me she was homeless.
“I’ve got to go because I’m hurting,” she said. “I’m in pain.”
Matthew Hauber and his mother claimed a similar story. They met us in front of Wayside Christian Mission in the spot where they said he was dumped in October.
“I was in a car crash,” Matthew said. “I completely shattered my hip and pelvis. I got like 30-some screws.”
“They said we can’t find a rehab right now,” Linda Hauber said.
She said when Norton Hospital told her they had a room lined up for Matthew at Wayside, she checked it out.
“I called Wayside just to confirm, and they said ‘No, we can’t do that, we can’t.’” Linda said. “‘We have beds and help find jobs, but we don’t take medically needy people, we don’t do that.’”
She said she then had a conference call with the hospital staff.
“The social worker said ‘We’re going to take him to a shelter’ and I said ‘Which one?’” Linda said. “And they said Wayside Christian Mission. And I said ‘Well I know that’s not true, because I called them and they don’t take them.’ Then the social worker said ‘That’s history, we’ll think of something else.’”
Linda said the next day, her son was unloaded from a transport vehicle on the curb in the rain on Jackson Street in front of Wayside.
“I thought ‘They’ve dumped my son...’ my garbage I have to put out to the curb, that’s how they dumped my son,” Linda said. “Like garbage.”
Linda said she was in no shape to care for him at home. She died after the interview with us.
“They put all their stuff on the sidewalk over there, dump them off on the sidewalk, get back in their vehicle and get out of here just as fast as they can,” Wayside staffer Perry Layne said.
Layne helped Matthew out of the rain that day and said he witnesses the same kind of thing dozens of times a year from hospitals as far away as Eastern Kentucky.
He said they’re often lied to about the medical treatment they’ll receive at the shelter.
“What’s the worst physical shape you’ve seen someone who was dumped?” I asked.
“This guy here was pretty bad,” Layne said mentioning Matthew.
“[He was] paralyzed,” Layne added. “People that can’t walk. Totally reliant on a wheelchair. [Hospitals] take them out, put them in a wheelchair, throw all their stuff on the street and take off.”
Wayside’s chief operating officer Nina Moseley told me it’s “not uncommon.” She said they’re not trained medically and sometimes they take patients right back to the hospitals.
“How can you dump people?” Layne said. “These are human beings. How can you just dump them and leave them? It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s inhuman, man.”
We detailed these incidents with dates and times and sent them to both Norton and University Hospitals.
Norton Healthcare Senior Vice President Renee Murphy responded in an emailed statement:
“In order to safeguard the privacy of patients and in compliance with HIPAA, we are not permitted to discuss specifics regarding a patient’s case. With that being said, there are several details to this case that may not have been communicated to you by the family. As Mr. Hauber has not signed a HIPAA release of information form, which authorizes us to speak to you about his care, we will not be able to share those details with you.”
University Hospital Public Relations Director David McArthur replied in an emailed statement:
“UofL Health goes through extraordinary efforts to ensure all people that seek medical assistance are treated with compassionate, innovative, patient-centered care.
What is heartbreaking for UofL Health staff is that we often encounter situations where patients need assistance beyond medical care.
As the community’s safety net hospital, the challenges are particularly even more acute when providing health care to the unhoused population of metro Louisville. As a health care provider, we treat medical conditions but some of our patients need much more. Our team routinely offers additional resources to assist with housing, transportation, and ongoing care. It is part of their training and our expectations. However, community resources are limited and, even when they are available, many individuals that may benefit from those resources still refuse assistance.
Regardless, UofL Health recognizes and complies with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). Every individual presenting to any of our emergency departments is medically screened. If they have an emergency medical condition, they are treated, regardless of insurance or ability to pay.
In response to your question, based on the location and uniforms of the security personnel in the screenshots (from December 16th), they appear to be working on behalf of UofL Hospital. Unfortunately, the images that were provided by WAVE do not reveal enough information to track down additional details or identify whether the individuals, on either day, sought care from any of our team.”
The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, known as EMTALA, was passed in 1986 as a federal anti-dumping law. It mandates “patients who present to a hospital emergency department”... “must undergo an appropriate medical screening examination by a physician”... “to determine whether they have an emergency medical condition.”
If they do, they “must be stabilized and treated” and “an appropriate transfer may take place to another facility with adequate capabilities.”
“Juries take the obligation to treat emergency patients very, very seriously,” attorney Hans Poppe said.
Poppe knows that first hand. He won a $2.3 million patient dumping verdict, most of that in punitive damages after his client, who was coming to a Lexington hospital by ambulance with a cardiac emergency, was turned away and directed to another hospital.
“Juries don’t like to punish hospitals,” Poppe said.
There aren’t many verdicts in Kentucky history favoring plaintiffs in alleged patient dumping cases.
In one of them, a $1.5 million verdict was awarded in Fayette County to a “difficult patient with a history of ER visits”... “dumped by a hospital”... “rolled outside in a wheelchair with taxi fare” and “hours later the man was dead of an untreated ulcer.”
After being reversed on appeal, another jury socked the hospital for $1.45 million.
“What that tells us is if a jury hears a case and they believe there has been an EMTALA violation where a patient has been dumped or abandoned by the hospital, they really get upset,” Poppe said.
“It’s like I’m worthless man,” Matthew said. “We’re throwaway. We’re garbage, you know.”
I was contacted by a law enforcement officer who worked off-duty at University Hospital who said she emailed UofL Health CEO Tom Miller on March 1 about this issue and what she was witnessing.
She said she was then informed she would no longer be working there.
I asked UofL about that. They said the officer was concerned about the same things they are and they’re collaborating to increase community resources for the at-risk populations.
As for the officer being let go after the March email, UofL said she was employed by a third-party security service.
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