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VERIFY: Can hospitals refuse to admit you if you're not vaccinated?

As space runs out, hospitals need to make tough decisions.

ATLANTA — As COVID cases spread and emergency rooms fill up, hospitals are having to make tough choices about who they admit.

Can your vaccination status impact if you are seen or not? 

11Alive's Verify team brings you the facts.

THE QUESTION

11Alive viewer Sophia Johnson asked, "Can a doctor or hospital refuse to see or treat someone who has not been vaccinated yet?"

SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

In an emergency situation, hospitals legally cannot turn you away based on your COVID vaccination status. However, if it's not an emergency, the answer becomes complicated.

WHAT WE KNOW

Let's start by looking at the law.

According to EMTALA, the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment Act, hospitals must see any patient who comes in for emergency treatment. If they can't treat them, they must transfer them somewhere to get proper help.

"Hospitals are extremely limited in their ability to say no to a patient who comes with an emergency," Matthew Lawrence said, an associate law professor at Emory University.

Lawrence said it's illegal for hospitals to turn you away from an emergency room.

However, as space runs out, hospitals do need to make tough decisions. Healthcare attorney Lee Little said as resources become scarce, hospitals make judgments based on patients' ability to survive.

She said if all things are equal between patients and there is limited space, a vaccinated patient may have a better chance of survival.

"These aren't situations that really lend themselves to blanket policies," Little said. "It's more of an individualized assessment that needs to take place."

But, the rules get more complicated if it is not an emergency situation. 

Lawrence said if you are an established patient and need care, your doctor owes you care no matter what your vaccination status is.

However, if you are a new patient looking for a new doctor, that provider can have some discretion.