A psychiatric patient was sent in a taxi from a Glendale hospital to the winter homeless shelter without notice, an incident critics call “patient dumping,” and one that the executive director of the shelter this week described as a reminder for local hospitals and homeless care providers to continually improve their communication.
Patient dumping doesn’t happen nearly as often in Glendale as it does on Los Angeles’ skid row — where shelters have security cameras set up to catch culprits — but when it does occur, it causes confusion and strain, Natalie Profant-Komuro, executive director of Ascencia, the 90-day shelter operator and Glendale’s largest homeless services provider, said after a Homeless Coalition meeting this week.
“It’s not all the time [in Glendale], but it does happen,” said Profant-Komuro, who declined to say which hospital discharged the man. “This one is notable to me because the patient was so unfit.”
Patient dumping has been a problem for years in Los Angeles and just last week that city announced a $250,000 settlement with a Montebello hospital accused of leaving a patient on skid row without notifying a shelter.
The mentally ill patient arrived at the emergency winter shelter at 437 Fernando Court around 5 p.m. on Dec. 6 in a taxi. A homeless outreach worker tried to help the non-lucid man out of the cab, but he refused. Another homeless person helped coax the patient, who refused to give his name, out of the car, Profant-Komuro said.
“He had no luggage, no bags, no information, nothing,” she said. “Just yogurt and crackers.”
The man refused to go into the shelter and wandered off. About two and a half hours later, Glendale police officers returned him to the shelter after he had been causing havoc at a nearby fast-food restaurant.
“He was so mentally ill he couldn’t even complete the paperwork,” Profant-Komuro said, adding that if the shelter had known about his arrival beforehand they would have been prepared for the patient. Since the shelter is only open at night, the man left the next day.
California health code requires that if a patient is discharged from a hospital and sent to a homeless shelter, hospital personnel should call the shelter in advance.
Officials at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital and Glendale Memorial Medical Center said they have special procedures to discharge homeless patients.
“If a patient is homeless, hospital staff works with the discharging physician and the accepting facility to arrange appropriate transportation and follow up care as needed,” said Glendale Memorial spokeswoman Sonia Astrid Solin.
Peg Bernardy, director of patient and family services at Verdugo Hills, said if a patient is sent to a shelter in Los Angeles, hospital staff will follow that city’s rules, which require an advance call, written confirmation that the shelter will accept the patient, information about the patient’s needs and a 30-day supply of medication. If the shelter is outside of Los Angeles, the hospital follows whatever rules set up by the receiving shelter. Glendale does not have a city ordinance regarding this issue.
Glendale Adventist spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez said “every effort is made to provide maximum resources for this population.”
Despite the procedures, at least one person slipped through the cracks.
Profant-Komuro did not want to name which hospital the patient came from because she said Ascencia has a working relationship with all three medical facilities. All parties should focus on working together, not the “blame game,” she said.
Ascencia had a hospital liaison when the incident happened, but that staff person is leaving and the nonprofit is moving quickly to fill it.
“It’s an all-around big challenge,” she said. “We need to be focused on trying to do better.”