HCFA approves change after ER controversy

Ravenswood continues Medicare participation

The Chicago hospital that was criticized when emergency department staff refused to go outside and help a dying gunshot victim will continue to receive Medicare funding. The Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) recently approved the hospital's revised policy on such instances after threatening to end its Medicare participation unless the policy were changed.

Ravenswood Hospital Medical Center had been criticized heavily for an incident on May 16, when 15-year-old Christopher Sercye was shot less than a block away from the hospital. Emergency department staff followed hospital policy and refused to go outside and help him, even as his friends and police officers responding to the incident pleaded with them. The boy died after police brought him inside the hospital. (See "Ravenswood: A dilemma for all risk managers," Healthcare Risk Management, July 1998, p. 89.)

A quick about-face

Ravenswood officials issued a public statement saying the policy had been revoked two days after the incident, but that didn't end the controversy. Ravenswood Risk Manager Janet Iron tells Healthcare Risk Management hospital attorneys are preparing for a possible lawsuit from the family of the gunshot victim, and HCFA had said it wanted proof the policy had been changed or it would kick the facility out of the Medicare system. The Illinois Department of Public Health also had demanded the policy be changed.

HCFA and the state department approved the new policy on June 19. Under the new policy, hospital employees are required to call a special internal telephone number to report cases where they believe someone on or near the hospital campus needs immediate medical assistance. The internal telephone number provides immediate access to an emergency department nurse and physician, who will determine how best to treat the person. The new policy does not prohibit staff from going outside to help those in need.