November 26, 2005 in Nation/World

L.A. hospitals send poor to Skid Row

Cara Mia DiMassa and Richard Winton Los Angeles Times
 

LOS ANGELES – Three Los Angeles hospitals regularly put discharged patients with nowhere to go into taxicabs bound for Skid Row, hospital officials acknowledged this week.

Officials at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles and Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center said the practice is necessary because Skid Row is the only place in Southern California with a concentration of social services for the patients, including homeless shelters and drug and alcohol programs.

Los Angeles Police Department officials agreed that the hospitals have few other options. But they said the practice worsens the already grim conditions on Skid Row. They also disputed the hospitals’ contention that the patients taken to Skid Row are always ready for release.

The hospitals are the first agencies to acknowledge a practice of routinely delivering their wards to Skid Row. They did so after being named in a report by the Los Angeles Police Department which accused the three hospitals as well as several suburban law enforcement agencies of leaving homeless people and criminals in downtown. The suburban police departments have denied the accusation.

Workers at Skid Row social service agencies this week said several additional hospitals also discharge patients to the downtown area. Those reports could not be confirmed.

Representatives of the three hospitals insisted that the practice is in the best interests of the patients because Skid Row offers their best chance of receiving the follow-up services – as well as shelter – that they need once they are discharged. They also stressed that the patients are sent to Skid Row only after they are medically stable for discharge.

“One of the challenges is that there are very few places that will take patients coming out of the hospital, even when they are medically cleared,” said Mehera Christian, director of public affairs for Kaiser Permanente Metro Los Angeles, whose West L.A. hospital is eight miles from downtown.

Typically, social workers in the hospital meet with patients before they are discharged and “try to connect them with resources in the community,” Christian said. “We provide them with free transportation to that agency. Some of the only places to send them for social assistance are the agencies recommended to us by the Los Angeles Homeless Authority. Those are predominantly in the downtown area.”

Christian said that about 50 percent of the time, the patients themselves designate where they want to go, and sometimes, she said, that may not be where there are services available. “We don’t force them,” Christian said. “We have to respect that patient’s wishes.”

Despite the statements by the three hospitals that patients are transported only when they are medically stable, LAPD Capt. Andy Smith, who oversees the central division, said he routinely sees “individuals with not one but sometimes two different hospital bracelets, and people with bandages on, people who are barely ambulatory, and we’ll end up calling an ambulance … Sometimes they are in such bad shape they are incoherent.”

Service providers on Skid Row said they sympathize with the hospitals’ position but believe they need to do more.

Jim Howat, the Volunteers of America’s group director for homeless services in Los Angeles, said he is troubled by the constant stream of ill patients arriving on his organization’s doorstep in taxis and ambulances. But until other communities allow services for the homeless and poor into their neighborhoods, he doesn’t see the situation changing.

“A lot of times, where are they going to take them? What are the alternatives? At this point, there aren’t many alternatives.”

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