Bet Tzedek officials note that under the law nursing homes can require a patient to leave only if the discharge is necessary for the welfare of the patient, the patient no longer needs care, the safety or health of others are endangered or for non-payment of bills.
The law also requires that in order to be evicted, a patient must be given written notice and informed of the right to appeal to state health officials and be furnished the phone number of a long-term care ombudsman.
Victor Arkin, head of health facility inspection for the county, said that nursing homes sometimes send unwanted patients home in taxis. But Arkin had never heard of a patient being hauled away in the bed of a pickup as was done with Pierce.
"I've seen cabs, but not trucks," Arkin said.
In January, 1994, Pierce was sent from the Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center to the Vermont Knolls Convalescent Hospital in Los Angeles after being treated for injuries suffered in a mugging.
Medical records indicate that Pierce was unable to stand without assistance and suffered from alcohol syndrome seizures. Pierce had no money and officials at the nursing home, a facility on South Vermont Avenue, expected Medi-Cal to pay for his care.
When Medi-Cal denied payment, nursing home officials say they issued Pierce a 30-day notice of eviction on April 27, 1994.
Pierce says he got no such notice. According to county health inspectors, he was not told of his right to appeal nor was he given the phone number of an ombudsman,
Pierce, a former roommate, a nursing home official and medical records are in general agreement on how Pierce was evicted.
A May 31 entry in Pierce's nursing home records says:
"Patient was told that his 30-day notice was up. He refused to leave the facility. Became very uncooperative. Would not get out of bed."
Antonio Bethley, social worker at Vermont Knolls and activities director at the time of the incident, said in an interview that he and two other staff members evicted a struggling Pierce by picking him up, pushing him into a wheelchair and wheeling him to a pickup truck.
"He was putting up a little fight," Bethley said. "He was trying to get under the bed . . . because he didn't want to leave."
Pierce says he was choked and his roommate said in an interview that Pierce was manhandled and dropped on the floor.
"They drug him out of the room," recalled Morvest Pickens. "I saw him get dropped on the floor. He was telling them that he couldn't walk."
Bethley says that Pierce asked to be taken to King/Drew after he was put in the wheelchair, but Pierce insists that he did not know where he was being taken.
The next day, Pierce was sent to another nursing home where he contacted an ombudsman. Several months later he filed a complaint with county health inspectors.
Vermont Knolls was issued a notice of "deficiency" and promised to correct its procedures regarding evictions. No fine was levied.