Miss. hospital sues ambulance service over diverted patients

Says some falsely classified as 'trauma' and taken to regional trauma center, allege service denied patients choice

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — A medical center in Miss. filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging improper practices by an ambulance company are denying local residents a choice in treatment. 

The lawsuit alleges that AAA Ambulance and Forrest General Hospital conspired together for dishonest, fraudulent and illegal purposes; it includes examples of several local residents that explicitly asked AAA Ambulance personnel to transport them to Wesley Medical Center for emergency care, but instead were transported to Forrest General Hospital.

Wesley Medical Center's lawsuit asserts that AAA Ambulance, which is controlled by Forrest General Hospital, has shown "reckless disregard for patient choice, violated Federal and Mississippi law, and caused harm to Wesley's reputation and business by ignoring patient requests."

The lawsuit also claims the two organizations falsified medical records, made untrue and defamatory statements about Wesley and intentionally violated the state's trauma system destination guidelines. Because of these improper actions, Wesley alleges that Forrest General Hospital is fraudulently obtaining a disproportionate share of trauma funds from the State of Mississippi.

In the lawsuit, Wesley alleges that some patients who were victims of this scheme were falsely classified as "trauma" patients and told they could be taken only to Forrest General Hospital, when, in fact, they did not meet trauma criteria and could have received care at Wesley.

Some were falsely told Wesley did not have the physician specialists or capabilities to care for their medical emergencies, the lawsuit claims. Others were allegedly told their emergency treatment would be delayed while AAA Ambulance sought permission to take them to Wesley, even though Wesley was the closest hospital, the preferred hospital and had the capabilities to care for their conditions.

"We have been inundated with heartbreaking stories from local residents who wanted to come to Wesley for their emergency care – and they specifically asked to come to Wesley – but in their most vulnerable moments, they were ignored, manipulated, or deceived into believing that they could not come here," said Mike Neuendorf, chief executive officer of Wesley Medical Center. 

"In filing this lawsuit, we are standing up for patient choice and the patient's right to make his or her own decision about where to seek emergency medical care."

When contacted by The Hattiesburg American, Forrest General Hospital officials declined to comment on the matter Tuesday afternoon. Attorney Jim Dukes, who represents both FGH and AAA ambulance, did not want to comment because he had not seen the lawsuit.

The State of Mississippi has established trauma system destination guidelines that indicate when patients should be transported to hospitals with trauma units. Wesley's lawsuit alleges that AAA Ambulance and Forrest General Hospital have repeatedly disregarded the guidelines.

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