Hospital and social service officials who have been working to prevent homeless patients from being dumped on Skid Row are hoping that L.A. District Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's prosecution of Kaiser Permanente won't derail efforts for a private sector solution to the problem.
Final touches on a pilot program to test the voluntary hospital discharge procedures were taking place Nov. 15 when Delgadillo's office filed civil and criminal charges against Kaiser Permanente, a participant in the discussions.
It's the city's first criminal prosecution of a hospital accused of "dumping" patients in a neighborhood known as one of the nation's largest and most notorious concentrations of homeless and indigent people.
Jim Lott, spokesman for the Hospital Association of Southern California, called the prosecution not only "politically motivated and pernicious" but a distraction from efforts to create a solution without adding more government regulation.
"It appears this (prosecution) is about more than solving the problem," he said.
A task force organized by the hospital association has been working for several months on a discharge-and-referral procedure by which hospital discharge counselors would contact and confirm that a shelter has room for a patient.
Under the plan, Volunteers of America vans would provide escorted door-to-door transportation from a hospital to the designated shelter. The process would be documented at every step.
Midnight Mission, Union Rescue Mission and the Weingart Center are among Skid Row facilities that have agreed to participate in a pilot project expected to launch in the next few weeks with hospitals in and around downtown.
Participating hospitals are expected to include Kaiser's flagship Sunset Boulevard hospital, L.A. County/USC Medical Center, California Hospital Medical Center, Good Samaritan Hospital, White Memorial Medical Center, Los Angeles Metropolitan Hospital and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center.
"We think this program holds a lot of promise, but we're continuing on our own to make changes in our internal procedures and discharge policies," said Kaiser spokeswoman Diana Bronta, noting that Kaiser's revamped procedures were submitted to the D.A.'s office for feedback.
However, Kaiser now has to face criminal false-imprisonment and dependent-care-endangerment charges, in addition to a civil charge of unfair business practices more commonly used by prosecutors to force unscrupulous slumlords to clean up their buildings.
The suit seeks a judge's order to forbid all Kaiser medical facilities from dumping homeless patients on Skid Row and to impose financial sanctions if it violates the order.
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