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Sun Valley hospital settles for $1 million in second patient-dumping lawsuit

Sun Valley hospital settles for $1 million in second patient-dumping lawsuit
Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer, pictured in December 2013, said he was "very disappointed" to be dealing again with Pacifica Hospital, which also was fined in May. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A San Fernando Valley hospital has agreed to pay $1 million in civil penalties to settle allegations that it put a mentally ill woman in a taxi and lost track of her for three days, Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer announced Thursday.

Under the terms of the settlement, Pacifica Hospital of the Valley admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to revamp its protocols for discharging homeless patients. It is the second time in two years that the hospital — a 231-bed facility in Sun Valley — has settled with the city attorney's office in patient-dumping cases.

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Feuer, speaking at a news conference at City Hall, said he was "very disappointed" to be dealing with Pacifica Hospital again. The settlement, he said, includes the largest civil penalty that has been imposed on a medical facility since he took office in 2013.

Pacifica Hospital on March 30 discharged 38-year-old Kasey Lucious, a patient with a history of mental illness and homelessness, after a 30-day stay. Hospital staff, without contacting her family, sent her 17 miles south by taxi to Crenshaw Nursing Home in Mid-City, Feuer said.

The cab driver left Lucious at the nursing home, but she never checked in, the city attorney said.

"A taxi cab driver is just that — a taxi cab driver," Feuer said. "He's not a medical person; he's not trained in the steps necessary here. He dropped her off in front of the facility."

The hospital did not receive confirmation that the nursing home would actually admit Lucious before sending her away and did not confirm that she had arrived, the city attorney said.

Lucious never checked into the facility. Her family filed a missing persons report, and she was found "wandering the streets" by California Highway Patrol officers three days later, Feuer said.

The hospital said in a statement Thursday that it has contested the city attorney's allegations but agreed to the settlement "to avoid the costs of litigation."

The hospital said it contacted authorities and several agencies, including Feuer's office, to help find Lucious after she "failed to arrive at a designated destination" after being discharged from Pacifica's behavioral health unit.

Lucious' sister, Jennifer Lujan, told CBS News in April that Lucious was found dehydrated and confused and that all she remembered was "just walking the street, sitting and sleeping."

The hospital has agreed to increase training for its personnel and pay $1 million to the city by June 2020, court documents show.

In May 2015, Pacifica agreed to pay $500,000 and to enact new discharge protocols after it was accused of dumping a man with a "grave mental disability" in skid row in downtown Los Angeles, according to the city attorney's office.

Feuer said his office had obtained nearly $3 million in patient-dumping settlements from multiple hospitals. He said that despite the "disgraceful homeless problem in our city," hospitals had to treat homeless patients humanely. There are numerous recuperative care facilities that hospitals can work with to assist homeless patients after they are discharged, he said.

"Of course there are challenges that hospitals confront with homeless patients, no question," he said. "But we also know that there are basic protocols that they can and should put in place that would prevent someone from being dropped off by a taxi and left to fend for themselves."

Pacifica Hospital previously was ordered by multiple Los Angeles juries to pay more than $5 million in damages to a man whose son was stabbed to death by a fellow psychiatric patient in 2011.

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Dean Camacho was stabbed by his roommate, Jerry Romansky, who attacked him with a a metal bracket removed from a toilet and fashioned as a weapon, an attorney for Camacho's father said last year. The presence of the bracket violated building codes and should not have been in the bathroom, which lacked an emergency call button.

Twitter: @haileybranson

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UPDATES:

3:39 p.m. This article was updated with information about a lawsuit involving the death of a Pacifica patient.

This article was originally published at 2:47 p.m.

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