By ANDREW GLAZER, Associated Press Writer 23 minutes ago
In an unprecedented crackdown on a practice experts say is shamefully common around the country, a major hospital chain was accused by prosecutors Thursday of ridding itself of a homeless patient by dumping her on crime-plagued Skid Row.
A surveillance camera at a rescue mission recorded the demented 63-year-old woman wandering around the streets in a hospital gown and slippers last March.
In announcing the criminal and civil charges, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said a Kaiser Permanente hospital put the woman in a taxi and sent her to the neighborhood even though she had serious, untreated health problems.
"Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, part of Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO in the nation, will be held accountable for violating state law, its commitment to its patients, its obligations under the Hippocratic oath, and perhaps most importantly, principles of common decency," Delgadillo said.
No U.S. hospital has ever been prosecuted on criminal charges of patient-dumping, said President Bush's homelessness czar, Philip F. Mangano.
Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said patient dumping is a widespread practice. "We need to hold hospitals accountable, but also work with them to resolve these issues," he said.
Kaiser's Bellflower hospital, which discharged the woman, is among 10 Los Angeles-area hospitals under investigation on suspicion of discharging homeless patients onto the streets instead of into the custody of a relative or shelter.
The legal actions filed against Kaiser late Wednesday included criminal charges of false imprisonment and dependent adult endangerment, and civil claims involving the treatment of patients and laws on discharging them.
"They have violated every ethical obligation under which they operate and they have also broken the law," Delgadillo said.
Diana Bonta, vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Southern California, said the legal action unfairly demonizes Kaiser, which she said has taken steps to see that no more of its patients are left on Skid Row.
"It's a big disappointment," she said. "They're taking one isolated case and saying, `This is what hospitals do.' In reality, hospitals are trying our best to take care of all people, including and especially the most vulnerable."
Bonta acknowledged that hospital officials had called a taxi to take the woman to Skid Row, but added that they had called ahead to a shelter there to let workers know she was coming.
Kaiser could be fined in the civil case and see penalties including restrictions on its practices if convicted of the criminal charges.
Police have long suspected that medical centers and outside law enforcement agencies were using Skid Row as a dumping ground for the homeless. Skid Row already has one of the nation's largest concentrations of homeless people, in part because of its cluster of shelters and services to help them.
The woman found wandering on the street, Carol Ann Reyes, was taken in at the Union Rescue Mission. Its director, Andy Bales, said she continues to be cared for.
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