LOS ANGELES (CN) – A psychiatric hospital has agreed to pay $1.6 million and submit to a court order stopping the hospital from dumping poor patients on skid row. Los Angeles Councilmember José Huizar called the hospital’s practice “despicable.”
The settlement is part of L.A.’s long campaign to crack down on patient dumping. The city filed criminal charges based on similar claims against Kaiser Permanente in November 2006.
College Hospital admitted to dumping at least 150 mentally ill patients in the skid row section of Los Angeles over a two-year period in an attempt to get the patients into homeless shelters instead of providing them with mental health care, said the City Attorney’s office in a statement.
Patients the hospital dropped on the street “often disappear without anyone in the social services system knowing their origins or what kind of care they require,” the city said.
The city began investigating College Hospital when it found out that the facility illegally discharged Steven Davis.
Davis, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, was living in a long-term care facility in April 2008. But when he threatened to commit suicide, L.A. County’s Psychiatric Mobile Response Team decided that he needed to be involuntarily committed at a psychiatric facility.
Paramedics took him to College Hospital, which contracts with the county to provide emergency psychiatric care.
College Hospital doctors certified Davis for an involuntary hold of up to 17 days.
But four days later, College Hospital decided that Davis was “suitable for discharge.” Since Davis’ former home refused to readmit him, College Hospital staff called “a few” other live-in care facilities, the city says. But the Hospital allegedly gave up, and did not contact Davis’ family.
Instead, it sent a Hospital van to drop Davis in front of Union Rescue Mission, where Davis wandered inside. The Mission had no idea that Davis was on his way, or what type of care he needed, according to the lawsuit the city filed against the Hospital.
The next day, a College Hospital Supervisor called the Mission, apologized for sending Davis to the Mission unannounced, and sent another Hospital van to pick him up. The van allegedly took Davis straight to New Image, another downtown homeless shelter. Again dropped off in the street, Davis wandered around the downtown area before walking into a health clinic.
Paramedics took Davis to the California Hospital Medical Center. This time, California Hospital contacted Davis’ family, who helped find a live-in care facility. California Hospital took Davis to his new home.
The city says mentally ill patients who are dumped on the streets “are likely to become homeless, develop addictions to illegal drugs, abuse alcohol, become victims of crime, have a high incidence of suicide or attempted suicide, and/or end up in jail.”
Confused patients are especially vulnerable around L.A.’s Skid Row, a “drug bazaar” where dealers often prey upon newcomers by offering their first drug doses for free, the lawsuit says. The hospital could be handing out a “life sentence of homelessness” every time it drops a mentally ill person in the area where they are most likely to become addicted to drugs, the city says.
“In contrast, psychiatric patients who, following discharge, remain on their medications, are afforded access to mental health professionals and receive family support, are much more likely to remain stable and non-violent for extended periods of time,” according to the city.
Part of College Hospital’s settlement, $1.2 million, will be donated to organizations that care for the homeless and the mentally ill. The remaining $400,000 in fines will go to the city and Los Angeles County. College Hospital must also design an effective discharge policy, to be implemented within one year.