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Thursday, November 16th 2006

Dumping Patients

This is a tough one. Call me heartless, but how hard should you come down on hospitals which dump patients?

The real problem for the politicians may be not that they’re throwing them out on the streets, but that they’re moving them to downtown Los Angeles, rather than pushing them simply out their front door. But isn’t that what you would hope they would do when they discharge an indigent/demented/disorganized patient? Put them where there are actual shelters and resources?!

Look, it is on the face a semi-heartless argument, but these people aren’t acutely ill. The hospital isn’t a shelter, it isn’t a nursing center, it isn’t often a detox center. You take these patients into your business, but don’t argue that the hospital, as an entity, holds some larger inherent responsibility for these homeless residents than any other member of the business community. We’re talking when they’re not “ill”.

And while it is kind’ve cruel to move them miles away from their “home area,” isn’t it better for them to actually find a shelter and mission, at least for a night, instead of going back to the doorstep they were sleeping on? So, maybe this entire prosecution of the “big bad” hospitals is really nothing more than politics, nothing more than the city of Los Angeles whining that they can’t take NEW homeless in their shelters. Isn’t that at least as heartless as what Kaiser and others are doing?

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office filed false-imprisonment and dependent-care-endangerment charges against hospital giant Kaiser Permanente on Wednesday, the first criminal prosecution of a medical center accused of “dumping” patients on skid row.

In addition to the criminal charges, the city attorney filed a civil lawsuit against Kaiser, using a state law on unfair business practices that city prosecutors usually implement against unscrupulous slumlords to force them to clean up their buildings. The suit seeks a judge’s order to forbid all Kaiser medical facilities from dumping homeless patients on skid row or impose financial sanctions if it violates the order.

Well, they’ll get pushed out the front door then, rather than to where the shelters actually are. Genius. Crime and poverty in one area rather than another. This solves nothing.

The indictment marks a turning point in the city’s yearlong effort to halt the practice by hospitals, as well as some outside law enforcement agencies, of dumping patients and criminals on downtown’s troubled skid row.

The push comes as city leaders are trying to crack down on crime and blight in the district, which has the largest concentration of homeless people in the western United States.