Wednesday, October 25, 2006

LA Hospitals caught dumping homeless people on skid row.

There is so much that the story out today on hospital dumping the homeless on skid row in L.A. that is so awful, and yet doesn't surprise me. In fact, just about a year ago I blogged on this very same problem as part of a larger post entitled 'The least of these my brethren. Only then it was an observation, now it is a criminal investigation.

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Authorities have launched a criminal investigation into suspected dumping of homeless people on Skid Row after police witnessed ambulances leaving five people on a street there during the weekend.

The city attorney's office is reviewing police videotapes and photographs of the five suspected dumping cases to determine 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.

Two patients told officers Sunday they did not want to be taken downtown, said police Capt. Andrew Smith. One was not even homeless, he said.

"There is an expression in the medical profession that is something to the effect of 'Do no harm,"' Chief William Bratton said at a press conference.

"When a hospital or an ambulance service takes an individual into Skid Row and leaves them and drives off, they are subjecting that person to considerable risk," he added.

Medical center officials denied improperly handling the patients....

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 Fraley, an attendant with ProCare, a private ambulance company, told police the hospital had hired his company to move discharged patients from the medical center to Skid Row, the Times reported.

How would you like to be discharged from the hospital, still in pain or not completely well, and dropped off someplace where you did not come from, perhaps didn't know where you were, and among people who you did not know? If someone-- homeless or not-- requests to be taken downtown, then it is fine to take them there. But absent such a request, discharge from a hospital is just that-- they can walk out the front door. Further, since at least one man the police asked about it had an actual home someplace else, if you are going to give him a ride, wouldn't you give him a ride to his home?

Unfortunately it is hard to be outraged at the hospital. Most hospitals today are running on a very thin and tight budget, made that way by our lack of a national health care system. A number have simply shut their doors (like the hospital in Holbrook, AZ, which had it remained open would have been the closest hospital to me.) Providing health care to the homeless is something they will lose money on-- that is a given, and the quicker they get them out the door the less they will lose. Medicaid, even when it applies, does not cover the costs the hospital incurs in this situation-- and Congress has made sure it will cover less and less of them. There is no other business at all where we as a society would EXPECT any business to lose money and not try to help them. Since refusing to serve people who need it is unethical, especially in the case of a hospital (where it is also illegal) the hospitals have to serve them and make up the cost by overbilling everyone else.

However what does outrage me is that this is just one more example of where our supposedly 'moral' society is treating the most vulnerable and most downtrodden in society-- those who have no home-- as undeserving of even basic human consideration.

We have seen homeless people literally beaten to death by upper middle class high school kids just looking for 'fun.' We have seen them driven from city to city, from place to place by a public who apparently prefers an 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality to actually doing anything about homelessness.

Oh, yeah. Conservatives love to go on about how housing for the homeless should be a 'private responsibility,' not government funded. Well, other than a few organizations like Habitat for Humanity (which organization incidentally got a big boost from Jimmy Carter in its early days), there just isn't anyone out there doing that. It isn't profitable to build homes for people who can't afford to pay for them. And the private charities just aren't putting a dent in the problem. There are more and more homeless people all the time, and no one gives a nickel more to get them off the street. And by now we have even reached the point where as a society we accept homeless children as well as adults. If I made my kids sleep outside on the piece of cardboard it would (and should) be considered child abuse. But somehow if mom and dad are doing the same thing because they have no other choice, then that is OK for junior.

How sick is that?

My belief is that to provide enough shelter to accomodate everyone who lacks but wants it is a public responsibility that we all share. Maybe conservatives will decry this plan for ending homelessness as 'another big government plan.' Maybe they are right. But at least we have a plan for it.

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