Los Angeles city prosecutors are investigating a Costa Mesa hospital for allegedly taking a mentally ill man 42 miles to downtown's skid row and leaving him near the Union Rescue Mission, officials said.
A van reportedly dropped the man outside the mission, one of the larger downtown facilities providing services to the homeless, after he was discharged from College Hospital in Costa Mesa last week. The man, described as possibly schizophrenic and bipolar, was taken to an L.A. area hospital after being tended by mission staffers, city officials said.
Prosecutors in City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo's office are investigating the incident.
"The bottom line is we are . . . taking it very seriously," said Jeff Isaacs, chief of the city attorney's criminal prosecutions. "It could be another classic case of dumping."
During the last 2 1/2 years, Delgadillo's office has filed criminal charges against a hospital, sued several other medical facilities and extracted an extensive settlement from Kaiser hospitals for dumping homeless patients.
Isaacs said that if the hospital did transport the man from Orange County to Los Angeles County, it might have run afoul of state law that makes it a misdemeanor to dump patients in another county. He said the law, enacted about two years ago, makes it far easier for prosecutors to bring charges in such cases.
Susan Taylor, an attorney for the hospital's parent corporation, said it was "looking into the matter" but wouldn't comment further until an internal review was conducted.
The Union Rescue Mission and sidewalk in front of it are among the most frequently used sites for patient dumping. Andy Bales, president of the mission, said it was disappointing that medical providers continue to dump patients on skid row despite the high-profile lawsuits and prosecutions.
"There are a lot of homeless facilities in all those miles between here and Costa Mesa, and yet again a hospital chose to bring a patient here to skid row," Bales said.
Los Angeles prosecutors have investigated more than 50 dumping cases since 2005.
In 2006, city prosecutors filed false-imprisonment and dependent-care-endangerment charges against Kaiser Permanente -- the nation's largest nonprofit health maintenance organization -- after Carol Ann Reyes, a 63-year-old patient who was discharged from Kaiser's Bellflower hospital, was videotaped wandering skid row wearing little more than a hospital gown after a taxi had dropped her off.
To resolve the charges, Kaiser agreed to establish new discharge rules, provide more training for employees and allow a former U.S. attorney to monitor its progress.
Last June, prosecutors filed civil complaints against Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Feliz and Methodist Hospital in Arcadia over four incidents of alleged patient dumping. In one highly publicized case, a paraplegic man wearing a colostomy bag was found crawling in a gutter near a skid row park in February after being discharged from Hollywood Presbyterian.