On March 30, 2020, CMS announced its “Hospitals Without Walls” initiative, which, among other things, invokes the HHS EMTALA waiver effective immediately. Specifically, the CMS Hospitals Without Walls Initiative waives enforcement of EMTALA to permit hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and critical access hospitals to perform medical screening exams at locations offsite from the hospital’s campus to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so long as it is not inconsistent with the state emergency preparedness or pandemic plan. The Hospital Without Walls initiative also waives other CMS requirements, including certain conditions of participation, provider-based department requirements, and physical environment requirements, to permit hospitals to provide inpatient and outpatient hospital services (e.g., room and board, nursing, and other hospital services) at remote locations or sites not considered part of a healthcare facility such as hotels or community facilities.
This waiver provides hospitals with increased flexibility to manage emergency department resources and facility capacity affected by medical screening examinations and treatment related to COVID-19. The waiver of EMTALA sanctions is applicable only to actions that do not discriminate on the basis of a patient’s source of payment or ability to pay and is effective until the termination of the declaration of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic.