Indigent Patients Being Dumped on L.A.'s Skid Row

In Los Angeles, the city attorney is warning area hospitals that releasing indigent patients in the city's skid row area may be illegal. Service providers and police in the area say hospitals and even outside police have been dumping people who cannot fend for themselves in this dangerous area.

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In Los Angeles, the city attorney is warning area hospitals that releasing indigent patients on Skid Row may be illegal. Service providers and police have long complained that hospitals have been dumping people who cannot fend for themselves in one of the city's most dangerous areas. Here's NPR's Ina Jaffe.

INA JAFFE reporting:

LA's Skid Row isn't a street; it's a 50-square-block area east of downtown that's home to thousands of the homeless. The neighborhood is also a haven for drug dealers, says Captain Andrew Smith, head of the LAPD Central Division.

Captain ANDREW SMITH (LAPD Central Division): We arrested a narcotics dealer the other morning. He had 3,600 balloons of heroin that he was using to make his morning deliveries to his little subdealers. So we got this guy with 10 pounds of heroin in his house. That tells me that the scope of heroin use down here is just tremendous.

JAFFE: People don't just live on the streets here; they die on them. Just this week four people were found dead in a single day, three of them from overdoses. It's the last place on Earth that a sickly, vulnerable person should be, says Smith. He not only has documented evidence of hospitals dropping homeless patients there; he's seen it with his own eyes.

Capt. SMITH: Recently I was at the Mission, and there was an ambulance trying to push an individual through the door, who was strapped to a gurney, who was basically incoherent, could not speak. And folks at the Mission are going, `We can't handle a guy like this.' And then the hospital had the audacity to threaten a lawsuit to myself and to the Mission for defamation, saying that this didn't occur until we told them that we had it on videotape.

JAFFE: That Mission, the Union Rescue Mission, has been cooperating with the city attorney's investigation, says Mission President Andrew Bales.

Mr. ANDREW BALES (Union Rescue Mission): We handed off documentation of 11 different drop-offs. Six or seven of them, we had which hospitals dropped them off. Several of the cases, we've had people show up in such bad condition, they couldn't even tell us where they were sent from.

JAFFE: Bales says hospitals aren't the only culprits. Law enforcement agencies from as far as a hundred miles away have also been seen dropping people on LA's Skid Row. But for the moment city attorney Rocky Delgadillo is concentrating on the hospitals. He'll be sending them a letter this week. A copy obtained by NPR shows it asks them to document their policies governing the discharge of their poor and homeless patients. Delgadillo says hospitals could be in violation of federal and state laws. They may even be in violation of the same law that's been used to prosecute slum lords, and they could also be liable for civil penalties that could result in whopping fines.

Mr. ROCKY DELGADILLO (LA City Attorney): For some of these folks, it might be exactly what--the medicine they need. Some individuals, the fines on the criminal side or even time in jail might, for them, be a cost of doing business. In this case, we could exact enough punishment that ultimately we'll get them to change their behavior.

JAFFE: Delgadillo wouldn't say which hospitals will receive the letter or how many. But a source, who asked not to be named for legal reasons, said that one of them is Hollywood Presbyterian. Shawn Bolouki, who has been the CEO there for a month and a half, says dumping patients on Skid Row would violate the hospital's policies and ethics. On the other hand...

Mr. SHAWN BOLOUKI (CEO, Hollywood Presbyterian): If the patient is medically cleared by the physician and the only place that they know, OK, maybe is the Skid Row because that's the place they can receive some help, and it's their desire to go there, I will help them, provide transportation for them. But I do not decide on the destination.

JAFFE: City attorney Delgadillo says because of who the victims are, this will be an especially difficult investigation.

Mr. DELGADILLO: In an attempt to get some of these victims to hang around long enough to go testify in court, it will be a real challenge for us.

JAFFE: Delgadillo says he expects the investigation to expand to include other agencies besides hospitals, who may be taking advantage of people he calls `the perfect victims.' Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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