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February 20, 2009

Emergency doctors condemn hospital’s referral policy as illegal

The U of C Medical Center came under fire yesterday when the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) said the hospital’s planned reduction in inpatient beds and policy of sending non-urgent patients to other medical centers verges on illegal.

ACEP, the largest group of emergency doctors in the country, cited an August instance when a 12-year-old male Medicaid patient was referred to another hospital for surgery after a pit bull attacked him. The patient found himself amid a high-profile controversy last week when the Chicago Tribune reported what happened.

John Easton, spokesman for the hospital, disputed ACEP’s complaints.

“Physicians familiar with the case support the clinical decisions made at UCMC, which followed a widely accepted standard of care, supported by numerous textbook and journal article recommendations for the treatment of dog bites,” Easton said. “We regret ACEP’s distortion of this case, and its mischaracterization of our efforts to responsibly address a nationwide crisis in healthcare.”

ACEP claimed that the policy of referring non-critical patients to other medical centers violates practices made illegal by the Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act and reflected an effort to “cherry-pick” wealthy patients over poor.

The criticism comes on the heels of worker protests over the layoff of 450 staff and the new triaging policy announced last week.