By Melanie Evans, Alexandra Berzon, and Daniela Hernandez

October 19, 2020

Several large Southern California hospital systems improperly refused or delayed accepting Covid-19 patients based on their insurance status, according to internal emails among local and state government, hospital and emergency-response officials, leaving severely ill patients waiting for care and adding strain on hospitals overrun by the pandemic.

Disaster-response experts said the refusals and delays exposed ways that some hospitals have put finances ahead of pandemic relief. Some instances might have violated a federal law that protects access to emergency care, while in other instances the actions ran counter to medical ethics, the experts said.

“It is wrong to say ‘no’ if you have capacity” and an overrun hospital can’t provide proper care to the flood of patients coming through its doors, said Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at the Mass General Brigham hospital system in Boston.

The emails identified four major hospital systems as refusing or delaying receiving transfer patients, but in some instances, denying hospitals weren’t named or quantified, so the total could be higher. In some cases, it couldn’t be determined whether more than one hospital in the system refused or delayed accepting patients.