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Los Angeles

Action on Hospitals Upheld

Health: Judge says two facilities cannot hold and treat mentally ill against their will.

September 07, 2002|CHARLES ORNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge upheld a rare disciplinary action by county mental health officials against two psychiatric hospitals that discharged patients to unlicensed boardinghouses.

Earlier this year, five patients living in one such house in the San Gabriel Valley died. Three suffered drug overdoses.

As a result, the county Department of Mental Health removed the psychiatric hospitals' authority to detain and treat mentally ill patients against their will.

Judge David Yaffe denied a request for a preliminary injunction to overturn the sanctions against Hollywood Community Hospital of Van Nuys and City of Angels Medical Center-Ingleside.

The hospitals argued that the county had improperly punished them for actions that were beyond their control. They maintained that patients have the right to decide where to live, even if they choose an unlicensed boardinghouse that violates the law by providing care and supervision to disabled residents.

The county, in court papers, maintained that the hospitals knew or should have known about the deplorable conditions at three boardinghouses, including filthy kitchens and bathrooms, overcrowding and psychiatric medications stored in the open.

Sheriffs investigators continue to investigate the now-closed boardinghouse in the San Gabriel Valley, which housed the five patients who died. To date, no criminal charges have been filed against its owner or operator.

Three of the residents died of morphine intoxication, along with the use of several other medications. One resident died of bleeding in the brain, and the fifth died of still-undetermined causes.

In their lawsuits against the county, the hospitals maintained that the sanctions against them would cost them the majority of their business. In addition, they said some patients would have nowhere else to go.

Mental health officials replied that there are more than 40 facilities in the county that can hold patients against their will, and that patients would be able to find care elsewhere.

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