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Is it legal to set up patients in the hallway, not on a temporary basis, but for their entire stay in the hospital?

Monday December 2, 2013
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

Is it legal to set up patients in the hallway, not on a temporary basis, but for their whole admission, and not because there are no other beds in area hospitals? All they have are partitions, and it seems like a potential violation of HIPPA. I can't find where to check laws on this.

Kevin



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Kevin:

The practice of placing patients permanently in a hallway, when there are other beds available at other facilities, is not acceptable practice. Legally and ethically, patients are to be treated with the best care available and with dignity and respect. Placing them in a hallway during the duration of their hospital stay meets no known goal that would benefit the patient.

Obviously, at times, it may be necessary to place a patient in a hallway for a short period of time until a room is available (making sure their privacy and comfort is provided for as best that can be) or until the transport of a patient can take place, especially if the hospital is experiencing an unusual influx of patients due to a disaster or overcrowding.

Treating patients in this way as a rule or as a policy is inconsistent with ethical principles, legal mandates under which hospitals are licensed to provide care, and likely violates other state and federal laws, such as HIPAA, prohibitions against the abuse and neglect of patients, and accreditation requirements.

Nurses who provide care to patients in such situations also may risk disciplinary action by a state board of nursing for various violations of the state nurse practice act and rules.

Because one of your duties under your state nurse practice act or its rules is to report unsafe, unethical, illegal or unprofessional practices to appropriate authorities, you might want to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can guide you in reporting this practice to the appropriate authorities. Such reporting is vital since these patients have no advocate to act on their behalf to end this situation. The reporting also will fulfill your legal and ethical duty as a nurse licensee, and as a human being, to report these known practices so that these individuals are admitted and provided care in a manner to which patients are entitled.

Regards,
Nancy




Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.