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Hospital accused of dumping L.A. homeless woman to pay $125,000 fine

March 18, 2011 |  7:30 am

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Four years after an Inglewood hospital allegedly dumped a woman with chronic lung problems at a West Los Angeles homeless shelter, the hospital's owner has agreed to settle a lawsuit by the L.A. city attorney.

The hospital's owner will pay $125,000 in penalties and charitable contributions and will abide by rules forbidding such practices at medical facilities it owns.

Centinela Freeman Holdings is the latest hospital group to be pursued by the L.A. city attorney for allegedly dumping patients at homeless shelters without following the required discharge procedures.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in February 2007 when Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center's campus in Inglewood discharged a woman in her 60s with chronic lung problems at the temporary winter shelter at the West L.A. Armory. City attorneys said the woman was carrying an oxygen cylinder when she was found by authorities. Centinela Freeman no longer owns the Inglewood hospital but does own the Marina del Rey Hospital, where the agreement will be enforced.

Since 2006, the city attorney's office and Los Angeles Police Department have uncovered hundreds of cases in which patients were dumped by hospitals across the region at facilities in skid row and other homeless shelters. In one case, College Hospital of Costa Mesa dumped more than 150 patients.

"As a result of the city attorney's settlements of homeless hospital patient dumping cases … the city has become a safer place for the most vulnerable hospital patients," said Deputy City Atty. Carolyn Phillips, who handled several of the cases. The city attorney's office –- first under City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and now under Carmen Trutanich -- has used a state law concerning unfair business practices that allows a corporation to be sued for unscrupulous behavior.

Under the settlement revealed this week, the hospital group will pay $5,000 in civil penalties and $120,000 in charitable contributions to a homeless recovery network that helps mentally ill patients.

The hospital owner also agreed to an injunction that prohibits it from discharging homeless patients to the streets or any shelter within an established "patient safety zone," a swath of downtown and South L.A. where most of the region's homeless shelters and missions are concentrated.

The hospital corporation did not acknowledge any wrongdoing but agreed to abide by best practices protocols for discharging homeless patients.

The protocols, signed in recent years by several Southern California hospitals, give specific requirements for how patients are to be released from hospitals and how they should be evaluated after their release. It also outlines a process for getting those who need additional care placed into medical or social service programs.

During the last five years, authorities and skid row service providers have cracked down on patient dumping. The Union Rescue Mission in downtown L.A. even installed "dumping cams" outside its shelter.

Several hospitals have agreed to settlements. College Hospital agreed to a $1.6-million settlement after widespread incidents of patient dumping. Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center settled allegations that it left a paraplegic man crawling around in a hospital gown by agreeing to pay $1 million and be monitored by a former U.S. attorney. And Kaiser Permanente agreed to establish new discharge rules and provide more training for employees after Kaiser's Bellflower hospital discharged by taxi a 63-year-old patient still in her hospital gown. It paid $500,000 in charitable contributions and agreed to be monitored.

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-- Richard Winton

Photo: Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood in 2004. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

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