Patient dumping tale is all too familiar

Even from 3,000 miles away, it's terribly depressing to read about yet another case of patient dumping by an LA hospital. This time, a Los Angeles-area hospital allegedly left a paraplegic man on LA's Skid Row, without his wheelchair, to crawl in a gutter while dragging a catheter bag.

This is just one episode in an unfolding crisis:

  • In 2006, Kaiser Bellflower hospital faced patient dumping charges when a homeless shelter camera videotaped a discharged patient, a 63-year-old woman with dementia, climbing out of a taxi to roam the streets in a hospital gown and socks.
  • In early 2007, the Los Angeles city attorney began investigating 10 area hospitals accused of wholesale dumping of patients on Skid Row, including Bellflower, Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center and Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center.
  • After investigating 55 cases of sick or homeless patients who were allegedly dumped on Skid Row, California officials filed a bill making it a crime to dump patients on the street.

Is there something in the water that makes California hospitals less sensitive to the plight of the homeless than those in other States? Of course not. And do such episodes occur in other big cities, particularly those with large homeless populations? Sad to say, they must.

All one can say is that these episodes underscore the collision of two already-epidemic problems: the plight of the uninsured and the fate of the homeless. Obviously, hospitals have enough to do without becoming the solution to two of our nation's most pressing social problems.

Still, I hate to think that we have to accept, as an industry, that some individuals will simply be left out in the street due to gaps in the system. Readers, do any of you work at hospitals that do a particularly good job of intercepting such multiply-disadvantaged folks and moving them into appropriate situations? If you do, please share them--I'd love to report some good news on this front. -Anne

P.S. Readers, in observance of Martin Luther King Day, we won't be publishing FierceHealthcare on Monday. Have a good long weekend, and we'll see you on Tuesday.