If you go into your local clinic for medical care, you may be in for a surprise: a doctor or nurse who looks like a private practitioner could really be a federal employee. Thousands of local community clinics and free clinics are “deemed” federally funded clinics for purposes of the FTCA. Normally this won’t impact your care, but if you have a potential medical malpractice claim, it greatly impacts where and how you file your case. It can be difficult to find out when a provider is covered by the FTCA, and there are a host of FTCA presuit requirements and deadlines that could destroy your claim if you don’t comply. This has caught many lawyers by surprise, unfortunately too late to timely file an FTCA case – which puts a client at risk, instead of the negligent health care providers.
There are a number of ways attorneys can try to find out if a provider is a federal employee:
- Visit the Health and Human Services (HHS) website and search for “deemed” facilities: http://bphc.hrsa.gov/ftca/healthcenters/ftcahcdeemedentitysearch.html. This particular search engine is limited to the current year only, and comes with a giant disclaimer that entities classified as “deemed grantees of record” provide services at nearly 8,000 health center sites, which may or may not be known by the same name. You need to keep digging if you don’t get a definitive hit on this search engine.
- Try another HHS website, http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov which is searchable by facility name, or state and county.
- Check the individual clinic’s website and pour over it. Sometimes you may find that it is “deemed” under the FTCA under the job opportunities listed there, or in the history of the facility. If the clinic is advertising in job announcements that employees are covered by the FTCA and don’t have to get malpractice insurance.
- HHS recommends contacting the health center directly and/or the BPHC Helpline at 1-877-974- BPHC to determine whether a health center is covered by the FTCA.
- Call the Clinic and ask directly. You may get some good information simply by calling the clinic.
- Search Westlaw or Lexis for previous settlements/verdicts with that center’s name. Odds are it has been sued before. This technique was mentioned by the 1st Circuit.
Medical malpractice claims are difficult, and federally funded clinics bring an added layer of complexity. If you have a potential malpractice case or a client with a potential medical malpractice case, consult with an attorney experienced in handling FTCA cases as early as you can.