Nearly a decade after local hospitals were exposed abandoning homeless patients on downtown's skid row, Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer on Friday vowed to crack down on the illegal practice that still continues.
In a settlement announced Friday, the 224-bed Beverly Hospital in Montebello agreed to pay $250,000 in civil penalties and legal fees after it was accused of taking a patient by taxi to skid row and leaving her there without making any arrangements with a shelter.
"'Patient dumping' is inhumane and intolerable to me," Feuer said. "I do have it in my mind to send a message to other hospitals that this won't be tolerated."
The hospital agreed to the fines and promised to adopt new protocols rather than face civil and criminal charges for allegedly leaving the homeless woman at 5th and San Pedro streets.
Although the Montebello case marks the first time in several years that a hospital has been caught dumping a patient illegally on skid row, homeless advocates say they've seen a surge of people on the streets wearing medical wristbands.
"Sadly, we are seeing patients from hospitals being dumped on skid row again without any plans for their discharge," said Andy Bales, chief executive of the Union Rescue Mission. "It is worse than ever. I am seeing more people — clearly patients — wandering the streets."
For nearly a decade, the Union Rescue Mission has operated "dump cams" outside its shelter. The Los Angeles Police Department has publicly vowed to arrest anyone caught leaving patients outside a shelter. In the last few months, Bales said, shelter officials discovered a patient from an Alhambra psychiatric hospital being dropped off by a taxi in October without any arrangements for care. That same hospital also was accused of leaving several patients at the Midnight Mission.
Feuer's office is investigating the allegations. His staff also investigated reports in the Sacramento Bee that Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Nevada had bused about 1,500 psychiatric patients to cities and towns across the country over the last five years, including about 500 to California. Feuer said that even if a hospital is out of state, he will take legal action to prevent it from dumping patients.
"It truly is hard to imagine for a person to be in a more vulnerable position than being delivered to nowhere on skid row," he said.
In 2005 and 2006, patient dumping on L.A.'s skid row grabbed national headlines with images of mentally ill patients in hospital gowns, one holding a colostomy bag, being dropped off in ambulances, taxis and vans.
City prosecutors began aggressively pursuing criminal and civil cases against medical facilities that left homeless patients at shelters. Los Angeles police reported seeing hundreds of patients, sometimes still in hospital gowns, on downtown streets.
The city forced several large hospitals and chains, including Kaiser Permanente, to pay massive civil penalties and agree to tough new regulations and, in some cases, even an independent monitor.
Feuer said he is not sure whether patient dumping subsided, or if the issue "didn't receive the attention it should have." Either way, he said, it clearly remains a problem.
The settlement signed last month by Feuer's office and Beverly Hospital resolves a civil enforcement action, which alleged the Montebello medical center failed to perform a screening on a homeless patient in an emergency medical condition.
Beverly Hospital, the city attorney alleged, failed to stabilize the homeless patient before transferring and improperly discharging her. An attorney for the hospital did not return telephone calls; the hospital also did not acknowledge dumping the patient.
Under the agreement, the hospital said it would follow state and federal laws that prohibit patient dumping. In Los Angeles, patients cannot be discharged into a so-called patient safety zone that encompasses much of downtown Los Angeles unless they are in the care of a relative. The hospital also must obtain written consent from patients to take them to a place other than their home.
The Beverly Hospital case doesn't have the scope of some of the worst offenders of the past. College Hospital in Orange County in 2009 agreed to pay $1.6 million in penalties and charitable contributions to a host of psychiatric and social services agencies. On a weekly basis, the hospital dropped patients off in vans, dumping 150 altogether.