LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles hospital accused of dumping homeless patients on downtown’s Skid Row is facing the first criminal charges in the city’s campaign to crack down on the practice and clean up the area.
Kaiser Permanente is among 10 hospitals under investigation by city prosecutors for allegedly discharging homeless patients to the streets of Skid Row rather than to a relative or shelter.
The case against it stems from a March surveillance video showing a 63-year-old patient from Kaiser Permanente’s Bellflower hospital wandering Skid Row in a hospital gown and slippers. Prosecutors describe what happened to Carol Ann Reyes in a document supporting the criminal charges filed late Wednesday.
“Skid Row is one of the most dangerous places, not only in L.A., but in the state and the country, so to dump her right in the heart of it with a hospital gown and socks and sweat shirt is unconscionable,” City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo told The Associated Press on Thursday.
His office charged Kaiser with endangering dependent care patients and false imprisonment. It also sued Kaiser under a state law on unfair business practices.
The lawsuit asks a judge to forbid all Kaiser hospitals from dumping homeless patients on Skid Row and to impose financial sanctions if the order is violated.
Large homeless concentration
Skid Row has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of homeless people, in part because it has a cluster of shelters and services to help them. Police have long suspected that medical centers and law enforcement agencies from elsewhere used it as a dumping ground for homeless people.
Delgadillo said the charges and lawsuit against Kaiser Permanente are a first step in holding hospitals accountable.
Diana Bonta, vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Southern California, said Kaiser has changed some its some of its practices since March.
“As soon as we heard about it, we said, ‘this is not how we do business.’ And we apologized,” she said.
Delgadillo spokesman Nick Velasquez, however, said the office sued Kaiser because the company last year had been unwilling to reach a settlement that would have established guidelines prohibiting patient dumping.
Camera installed in response to rumors
The surveillance camera that spotted Reyes had been installed at the Union Rescue Mission the previous year because of the allegations that homeless people were being brought there and left on the street.
Reyes lived mostly in a public park in Gardena before she was hospitalized. When she was discharged, prosecutors say, she wasn’t told she was being taken to Skid Row.
Hospital staff “summoned a taxicab and directed the taxi driver to transport Ms. Reyes to Skid Row, approximately 16 miles away. ... (She) was literally rushed out of the hospital and into the taxi even though the hospital staff could not locate her clothes,” the documents said. Reyes was eventually spotted by shelter staff and escorted inside.
Bonta said Kaiser has since stopped using taxis to transport patients to Skid Row.
Hospital officials also are instructed to notify Skid Row service providers in advance if they are sending a discharged patient there, and drivers must escort the patient inside, she said.
If convicted of the criminal charges, Kaiser Permanente could be placed on probation that would limit its behavior and contain potential penalties. The medical facility’s bonding and ratings also could be affected by any criminal finding.
City prosecutors said they have examined more than 40 allegations of hospital dumping on Skid Row. The investigation produced 15 potential cases, they said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Counsel also plan to sue on Reyes’ behalf.
“This is the first case in the nation where there is a joint effort by government and civil rights groups to halt the practice of hospital dumping,” said Mark Rosenbaum, the ACLU’s legal director.
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