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Hospital owner settles lawsuit over dumping homeless patient at shelter

Centinela Freeman Holdings agrees to pay after the L.A. city attorney sued over a 2007 incident in which a woman in her 60s with chronic lung problems was dumped at a temporary shelter.

March 19, 2011|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

Four years after an Inglewood hospital allegedly dumped a woman with chronic lung problems at a West Los Angeles homeless shelter, the hospital's owner has agreed to settle a lawsuit by the L.A. city attorney.

Centinela Freeman Holdings will pay $125,000 in penalties and charitable contributions and will abide by rules forbidding such practices at medical facilities it owns.

The company is the latest hospital group to be pursued by the L.A. city attorney for allegedly dumping patients at homeless shelters without following the required discharge procedures.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in February 2007, when Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center's campus in Inglewood discharged a woman in her 60s at the temporary winter shelter at the West L.A. National Guard Armory. City attorneys said the woman, who has chronic lung problems, was carrying an oxygen cylinder when she was found by authorities. Centinela Freeman no longer owns the Inglewood hospital but will enforce the agreement at its Marina del Rey Hospital.

Since 2006, the city attorney's office and Los Angeles Police Department have uncovered hundreds of cases in which patients were dumped by hospitals across the region at facilities on skid row and at other homeless shelters. In one case, College Hospital of Costa Mesa dumped more than 150 patients.

"As a result of the city attorney's settlements of homeless hospital patient dumping cases … the city has become a safer place for the most vulnerable hospital patients," said Deputy City Atty. Carolyn Phillips, who handled several of the cases. The city attorney's office — first under Rocky Delgadillo and now under Carmen Trutanich — has used a state law concerning unfair business practices that allows a corporation to be sued for unscrupulous behavior.

Under the settlement revealed this week, the hospital group will pay $5,000 in civil penalties and $120,000 in charitable contributions to a homeless recovery network that helps mentally ill patients.

The hospital owner also agreed to an injunction that prohibits it from discharging homeless patients to the streets or any shelter within an established "patient safety zone," a swath of downtown and South L.A. where the region's homeless shelters and missions are concentrated.

The hospital corporation did not acknowledge any wrongdoing but agreed to abide by best practices protocols for discharging homeless patients.

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