LA opens criminal investigation into allegation that hospital dumped patients on Skid Row

Tuesday, October 24th 2006, 6:01 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the dumping of homeless people on Skid Row after several ambulances were spotted leaving patients who were recently discharged from a Los Angeles hospital on the streets there over the weekend.

Police videotaped and photographed five alleged dumping cases Sunday in which the patients later told authorities they did not want to be taken downtown.

Authorities were investigating whether the patients were falsely imprisoned during their transfer and whether the hospital, Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center, violated any laws regarding the treatment of patients.

Hospital officials denied they had improperly handled the patients.

``With all of the issues, why would we send someone there who did not ask to go there? It is illogical,'' said John V. Fenton, president and chief executive of Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center.

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 several institutions, including law enforcement agencies from outside the city, were using the downtown neighborhood as a dumping ground for homeless people. This is the first criminal probe by the LAPD into the practice.

``This is the most blatant effort yet by a hospital to dump their patients on Skid Row against their will,'' said LAPD Capt. Andrew Smith.

The investigation began on Sunday, when an LAPD sergeant saw a patient being left in front of the Volunteers of America homeless services facility. The sergeant called an LAPD videographer, who over the next few hours recorded four more ambulances arriving at the facility and leaving recently discharged patients.

Fenton said three of the five patients had arrived at the hospital from Volunteers of America or the nearby Lamp Community center, and gave the street addresses on their admission information.

Officials at Lamp and Volunteers of America, however, said they had no record of any of the five patients having been at their facilities. Police also said the patients stated in their interviews that they didn't want to be left there.

James Frailey, an attendant with ProCare, a private ambulance company, told police the hospital had hired his company ``on a regular basis'' to move discharged patients from the medical center to Skid Row.

No law prevents hospitals from sending patients to Skid Row after they've been discharged.

But the city attorney is investigating whether taking homeless people from a hospital to Skid Row would violate federal laws against releasing or transferring patients who are medically unstable and whether hospitals can be sued for unscrupulous behavior.