A Los Angeles hospital accused of dumping a homeless patient 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.
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.
The case against the hospital stems from a March surveillance video showing a 63-year-old patient wandering Skid Row in a hospital gown and slippers. Prosecutors describe what happened to Carol Ann Reyes in a 20-page document supporting the false imprisonment and dependent-care abuse charges.
"We seek to end the inhumane and illegal practice," City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said in Thursday's Los Angeles Times.
Delgadillo's office is also suing 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. The prosecutor called the charges and lawsuit a first step in holding hospitals accountable.
Diana Bonta, vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Southern California, said Kaiser has changed some 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.
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.
If convicted of the criminal charges, Kaiser Permanente could be placed on probation that would 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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