While Jesse Bravo was being treated for schizophrenia at White Memorial Medical Center last year, his wife, Laura, called the hospital daily and visited him several times.
But when hospital officials decided to discharge him, Laura Bravo said, they didn't notify her and instead left him outside a rehabilitation center in South Los Angeles. She said her husband, who is not homeless, never went inside and spent days on the streets before being found.
"Not knowing where he was was very scary," she said. "I just had this feeling that something was wrong."
Public Counsel, a pro-bono law firm in Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit Friday against the hospital on behalf of Jesse Bravo, alleging elder abuse, false imprisonment and hospital negligence. The firm also turned the information over to the Los Angeles city attorney's office, which is reviewing it.
"White Memorial has set a new low for hospital dumping," said Hernan D. Vera, president and chief executive of Public Counsel. "They took someone who was not homeless and made him a homeless man."
White Memorial Medical Center spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez said she couldn't go into details but said that patient safety is the hospital's "No. 1 priority" and that Bravo was competent and alert and agreed to go to the center.
"We investigated this matter and determined that we followed all policies and procedures appropriately," she said. "We don't believe this was patient-dumping. It was a patient drop-off."
In the last several years, law enforcement authorities in Los Angeles have cracked down on hospitals accused of dumping people on the streets. Several high-profile cases led to prosecutions, financial settlements, hospital policy changes and increased vigilance by homeless shelters.
"The message was sent in the city of Los Angeles that this kind of activity would not be tolerated and would closely be watched," said Chief Deputy City Atty. William Carter. There are fewer cases in Los Angeles, Carter said, but he added that dumping continues outside of the city limits.
Jesse Bravo, 50, a former machinist, said he began hearing voices and feeling paranoid about nine years ago. That led to a mental illness diagnosis, a host of medications and several hospital stays, he said.
In January 2011, while his wife was at their home in Upland recuperating from surgery, Bravo went to stay with his mother in East Los Angeles. He started drinking and the paranoia returned. His wife went to his mother's house but said she couldn't calm him down, so she called an ambulance and he spent about two weeks at the hospital.
Jesse Bravo said he remembered being placed in plastic handcuffs and into a van last Feb. 11, even though he asked to be taken to his wife. Witnesses said they saw him get out of the van, attempt to give his medications to a dog and wander away, according to the lawsuit. The next few days were a blur, he said.
Laura Bravo said she panicked when she learned he had been discharged. When she couldn't find him at the center, Bravo said, she filed a missing persons report with police and searched throughout the city.
He was picked up by police a few days later. Now, Laura Bravo said, she never wants to take him to a hospital again. "I'm afraid to let him out of my sight," she said.