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Gulfport emergency room asks ‘non-urgent’ patients to go to walk-in clinic or pay $200

Memorial Hospital is changing its emergency room policy to reduce crowding.
Memorial Hospital is changing its emergency room policy to reduce crowding. Memorial Hospital at Gulfport

Memorial Hospital at Gulfport beginning next month will try to ease crowding in its emergency room by trying convince “non-urgent” patients to go to a walk-in clinic.

Those “non-urgent” patients who insist on using the ER will be asked to pay a $200 deposit or their insurance co-pay before they are treated.

A press release from the hospital said qualified ER providers will determine who is a non-urgent patient. Officials at the hospital said the change in policy is not a cost-saving measure nor does it alter Memorial’s commitment to serve people who are unable to pay for health care.

“Memorial, like all hospitals, have an obligation to provide care for acute (inpatient) and emergent conditions without regard to a patients ability to pay,” said Memorial President/CEO Gary G. Marchand. “The new financial policy does not conflict with the hospital's obligation to treat acute and emergent conditions. Acute and emergent conditions are exceptions to the new financial policy.”

The email from the hospital said it has seen an increase from 9,000 a year to 13,000 a year in hospital admissions from the ER for people with severe illnesses or injuries.

It suggests people with fever, colds and flu, ear infections, rashes and burns, insect bites sore throats, digestive discomfort, urinary tract infections and other minor conditions should go to a walk-in clinic. Memorial operates 15 walk-in clinics and it will give anyone with one of the minor conditions a list of its clinics as well as other urgent care facilities and clinics.

“Memorial is the only Level II Trauma Center serving Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson counties,” Marchand said. “To provide the best care possible, we must make sure we have the staff and space available to treat emergency patients.”

He said next year’s budget will pay to expand the clinics’ hours into the evening and on weekends.

“This policy change was not done as a cost savings measure,” he said in an emailed response to questions. “The hospital is shifting resources from the ER into the Walk-In Clinics. The policy change is being made to ease congestion in the ER (population growth, aging population, increase in high acuity patients presenting to the ER, increase in admissions to an inpatient bed from the ER).

“The government and insurers are requiring hospitals to be better stewards of the health-care dollar and to gain operating efficiencies. Right patient, right level of care, right location, right cost, right thing to do.”

Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy agreed that hospitals aren’t required to provide non-emergency treatment.

“The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, passed in 1985, requires hospitals to provide emergency care to all patients regardless of ability to pay,” he said. “While it provides certain protections to patients with emergency medical conditions or in active labor, “emergency” care isn’t synonymous with “medically necessary” care.

And Marchand said people who can’t afford to pay at a hospital ER or a walk-in clinic can still receive care.

“The Federally Qualified Health Clinics are grant funded by the Congress to provide access to primary care for the medically needy (if financially needy),” he wrote. “If the medical need is acute or emergent (not financial) then the responsibility comes back to the hospitals along the Coast.”

The are at least a dozen such clinics on the Coast.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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