Patient Abandonment Cases: What You Need to Know

Patient Abandonment Case

Healthcare policy has quickly shifted to a central focal point in our world, and more people are facing obstacles in care that have been commonly unknown.

Patient abandonment is far too real to those that have experienced it, and incidents are growing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Knowing what patient abandonment is, what role the law plays in these scenarios, and how to hold healthcare institutions accountable in protecting patients will help everyone protect their health and the health of loved ones.

Defining Patient Abandonmen

Patient abandonment falls under the medical malpractice statute and commonly happens when medical treatment is abruptly terminated by a physician, nurse, or healthcare institution–without providing a legitimate excuse or reasonable notice.

Patients should be given at least 30-days to find a new healthcare provider, but this does depend on laws that are governed by each state.

Patient abandonment, neglect, and discrimination laws have an abundant amount of considerations that are reviewed by the courts and attorneys when lawsuits are filed.

Components such as the extent of a pre-established doctor-patient (or nurse-patient) relationship, the timing of the perceived abandonment, and potential suffering as a result of the neglect is the baseline of patient abandonment claims.

Where the law is subject to open interpretation is when there are instances where the doctor/nurse-patient relationship is difficult to ascertain due to referrals or an implied assumption of a relationship.

Scenarios that can add technicality in interpreting the extent of a relationship are physician evaluations or referrals within an actual relationship, the interpretation of reasonable notice, and the measure of suffering caused by a severed relationship.

In medical malpractice cases, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff to prove that the doctor, nurse, or healthcare facility failed to provide care.

Documentation that shows lost earnings, other medical bills, lost wages, and overall economic hardship that resulted from direct negligence would be required in a live court case.

Closed Doctor’s Offices and the Rise of Patient Abandonment

Many Dentists and other non-urgent general care practitioners have closed their doors due to nationwide stay-at-home orders, and this does put doctors at risk of being held liable for both negligence and patient abandonment lawsuits.

More and more incidents are being documented due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in hospitals is causing friction, and potential patient abandonment situations are growing because of the lack of equipment for healthcare personnel.

So far, ten nurses at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, were placed on administrative leave for refusing to treat COVID-19 patients without N95 masks.

Nursing homes have been caught in the crossfire between patient care and patient safety, as legislation has failed to protect both residents and workers in many states.

Despite the vast amount of COVID-19 cases in both New York and New Jersey, both states have ordered nursing homes to admit patients regardless of their COVID-19 status.

California has loosened mandates requiring nursing homes to accept patients that are recovering from the virus but are not strictly prohibiting admittance like the state of Louisiana.

Louisiana has created Tier 2 facilities to care for individuals before returning them to nursing homes.

Protecting Yourself From Discrimination

Patients can protect themselves from being discriminated against by being vigilant and playing an active role in their medical care.

When possible, do extensive research before choosing a healthcare provider and check for negligence and patient abandonment issues.

Numerous negative reviews can be a warning sign, and it’s best to avoid providers that have an overwhelming amount of bad feedback.

Healthcare companion tools such as ZocDoc allow patients to leave reviews, which can be helpful in choosing a first-time healthcare provider.

If you can get a second opinion or visit a similar provider as you seek treatment, it is wise to do so.

You’ll also be able to compare care services and see what healthcare practitioners fit your needs.

The most critical component in protecting yourself if you’ve experienced discrimination is being proactive and documenting your experience from the beginning.

  1. Keep a comprehensive record of communication and try to use written communication as much as possible.
    Also, be sure to record any perceived negligence that you might witness, such as not returning phone calls or a lack of comprehensive care.
  2. Make sure to keep a copy of all medical documentation.
    If you ever have to take legal action, you may have to create a timetable and go over a series of events in great detail.
  3. The Joint Commission is a viable resource if you encounter issues with a healthcare provider.
    They are a non-profit organization that provides accreditation for hospitals and a variety of healthcare facilities.
    They prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression and have an online portal to accept quality care complaints.
    Your state’s Health Department and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are also good points of contact.

If your physician, nurse, or home health provider terminates service without notice and without providing alternative care, this is a red flag that may require further action.