Los Angeles authorities have settled another case against a healthcare facility accused of illegally dumping homeless patients — the eighth such case to be settled in the last five years.
City Atty. Mike Feuer and L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey used hospital records to determine that Silver Lake Medical Center violated the law by dropping off potentially hundreds of patients at bus and train stations, Lacey said. They ordered the medical center to pay $550,000 to fund a new Homeless Patient Assistance Program and to adhere to protocols for discharging homeless patients.
“This judgment and injunction are designed to hold Silver Lake Medical Center accountable for the disturbing mistreatment of patients,” Lacey said at a news conference Monday morning. “The hospital’s disregard for the law and its patients’ well-being cannot be ignored or go unpunished.”
Feuer said his office learned of hundreds of cases of patient dumping from a whistleblower, who alleged patients had been unlawfully discharged from the hospital over a period of years.
In more than 750 cases, Silver Lake Medical Center created documentation that was allegedly signed by homeless patients with mental illnesses, Lacey said. The documents indicated the patients had consented to being dropped off at locations such as the Union Rescue Mission homeless shelter. Transportation records for those patients, however, indicated they had actually been dropped off at bus or train stations, she said.
Because of the settlement agreement, Feuer and Lacey declined to elaborate further on the allegations. Feuer said the settlement does not mean there is a concession of liability by the hospital.
Silver Lake Medical Center will implement a “Special Populations Discharge Planning Protocol” and establish a training program that teaches staff members how to properly discharge homeless patients consistent with local, state and federal law.
The protocol includes providing the released patients with housing options, confirming the availability of the recommended housing options beforehand and ensuring that homeless patients are offered appropriate transportation and given a “warm hand-off.”
That means, “the recipient entity is aware the patient is coming, has a bed with appropriate care available for that person, greets that person at the door and integrates them seamlessly into the organization,” Feuer said.
The hospital must also determine if a patient is eligible for housing or other social services and help patients to identify and apply for those benefits.
Of the $550,000 the medical center has been ordered to pay, $250,000 will cover expenses charged by homeless housing providers.
“Silver Lake Medical’s actions seem especially troubling when we consider the nature of the business,” Lacey said. “A hospital is supposed to care for the sick and show compassion for every person who walks through the doors. And it’s even worse when we consider the nature of the victims — patients who are homeless, living with mental illness and often with nowhere else to go.”
On Thursday, Feuer settled a lawsuit filed against Avalon Villa Health Care for allegations that the home dumped a diabetic man in a wheelchair at a skid row homeless shelter without his permission or his medicine. The nursing home was ordered to pay $450,000.
In 2016, the Gardens Regional Hospital & Medical Center agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging it dumped a woman on skid row with no identification and wearing only paper pajamas. In each case, including five other settlements, the hospitals were mandated to implement new procedures to prevent patient dumping.
The Silver Lake Medical Center case involves potentially hundreds of patients, compared with previous settlements that involve only one patient each. Feuer said the settlement amount is only $100,000 more because the city attorney’s office wants to ensure that hospitals for homeless people continue to be viable institutions. Silver Lake Medical Center is one hospital in a “fragile” network that provides inpatient psychiatric services.
Senate Bill 1152, which would require basic protocols to prevent improper discharging of homeless patients, is pending. Lacey said she thinks it’s unlikely that legislators would enact a law to impose criminal sanctions against hospitals and administrators who are found guilty of patient dumping.
“The Legislature is very reluctant to pass any more laws that would make things a crime,” she said. “State prisons are full. They are very reluctant to do that.”
Feuer and Lacey also announced they are hosting a “Summit On Humanely Discharging Homeless Patients” with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital and other healthcare and homeless organizations later this summer. They hope the event will begin to solve an issue of poor communication between hospitals and homeless organizations and to increase collaboration.
“The key for us today is to create a system moving forward, so that … fragile psychiatric care network continues to function, but functions in a different and better way,” Feuer said.