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Despite Federal Law, Some Rural Hospitals Still Turn Away Women in Labor

News  |  By ProPublica  
   March 03, 2017

A review of federal inspection reports shows that at least 20 rural hospitals around the country have been found in violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act over the last five years.

This article first appeared March 3, 2017 on ProPublica.

By Julie Lasson

This story was co-published with the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The young woman's water broke late one morning in August 2014, as she stood in the bathroom of her home in rural Kentucky.

Her mother rushed her to the emergency room at Jewish Hospital Shelbyville. She signed a slip at the front desk, listing her chief complaint as "labor."

But Jewish Hospital had closed its obstetrics department eight years earlier. "We don't deliver babies here," the nurse told the woman over the phone, not realizing that she was calling from inside the emergency room, a government inspection found.

With no help offered, the woman and her mother went to a nearby gas station and called 911. An ambulance took her to a hospital 24 miles away, where she delivered a baby girl via C-section.

Under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, every U.S. hospital with an emergency room has a duty to treat patients who arrive in labor, caring for them at least until the delivery of the placenta after a baby is born.

But 30 years after EMTALA was passed, hospitals — particularly those in rural areas without obstetrics units — are still turning away women in labor.


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