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Skid row dumping suit settled

Hospital charged with leaving a paraplegic patient on the street will pay $1 million and have a federal monitor.

May 31, 2008|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center on Friday settled allegations that it left a paraplegic man crawling around downtown Los Angeles' skid row in a hospital gown and with a colostomy bag by agreeing to pay $1 million and be monitored by a former U.S. attorney for up to five years.

The resolution of the lawsuit marks the biggest settlement so far in the Los Angeles city attorney's efforts to crack down on hospitals and other institutions that "dump" patients on skid row.

Kaiser Permanente agreed to a smaller settlement last year, and the city attorney's office said it is investigating several other hospitals and medical offices suspected of dumping.

"This is another important step in our campaign to put an end, once and for all, to this horrendous and unconscionable practice in our city," said City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo. "Besides ensuring that this hospital will never again engage in this practice, this settlement will also bring programs that will help address the lack of medical care for homeless people in the Hollywood area."

As part of the settlement, Hollywood Presbyterian agreed to adopt new discharge rules and enhance services for homeless patients. The $1 million will go to nonprofit groups that aid the indigent and homeless patients in the Hollywood area and other parts of the city.

The case involving paraplegic Gabino Olvera, 54, came to symbolize the problem of dumping patients on skid row, an area that for decades has been plagued by homelessness and drug-related problems. Olvera, wearing a soiled hospital gown and a broken colostomy bag, was found in February 2007 crawling in a gutter downtown.

Witnesses said they saw a Hollywood Presbyterian van leave the man on the street. They said they shouted at the female driver of the van, "Where's his wheelchair? Where's his walker?"

City leaders have been fighting for two years to halt dumping by hospitals, as well as by some law enforcement agencies that have reportedly driven criminals to skid row after releasing them from custody.

Los Angeles also has been trying to clean up skid row, which has the largest concentration of homeless people in the Western United States. The campaign coincides with a downtown boom in luxury condo and apartment development.

A city law that is to take effect in July will make it a misdemeanor to take a patient to a location other than his or her residence without written consent. The crime will be punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to three years corporate probation.

The agreement with Hollywood Presbyterian resolves the lawsuit filed last year by the city attorney's office.

"We have now done everything we told the community last year we would do in response to this incident," Jeff Nelson, Hollywood Presbyterian chief executive, said in a statement. "From the first day, we promised to take action to review our policies, procedures and services for homeless patients and improve them where needed."

As part of the settlement, Hollywood Presbyterian agreed to a series of requirements aimed at preventing future patient dumping and allowed Lourdes Baird, a former U.S. attorney for Los Angeles and retired U.S. District Court judge, to oversee the hospital chain's compliance. Baird, who is already overseeing the Kaiser chain, will report to a Superior Court judge in L.A.

Baird is to monitor the hospital for five years, but the agreement states that if certain standards are met, monitoring can end after two years. The hospital will also pay a civil penalty of $10,000 and cover $50,000 in city attorney investigation costs.

Under the new rules, physicians, nurses and social workers are required to assess and document homeless patients' mental status and refer them for cognitive and neurological exams when needed.

Empire Enterprises, whose driver was accused of leaving Olvera, was also a defendant in the suit. The van company agreed to end such actions and pay a $10,000 civil penalty, city attorney's officials said.

Olvera and the hospital have also reached a confidential financial settlement on his personal litigation, attorneys said. The settlement "allows for the setting up of a trust to take care of Mr. Olvera," said Steven Archer, one of his lawyers.

Nelson, the hospital's chief executive, said Olvera's treatment was unacceptable.

"From the first day, we have said the outcome of this case was not in line with the hospital's policies and procedures and that we would take whatever actions were necessary to ensure to the extent possible that nothing of the sort happens again," he said in the statement.

Jeff Isaacs, chief of criminal prosecutions and enforcement for the city attorney, said his office still has a civil suit pending against Arcadia's Methodist Hospital, alleging patient dumping.

Over the last two years, his office has opened investigations into more than 50 cases of alleged dumping. The latest allegation involved a hospital in Costa Mesa accused of dumping a patient on skid row earlier this year.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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