Hospitals would be required to get written confirmation from homeless shelters before discharging patients to those facilities under a bill introduced Wednesday in the California State Senate.
The bill, carried by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, is designed to curb the practice known as hospital patient “dumping,” or discharging poor people to the streets, shelters or other agencies incapable of caring for them.
It’s an issue that recently has made headlines in cities such as Los Angeles and Sacramento. The Bee this week documented the case of Lara Woods, a cancer patient who was sent via a ride-share car from UC Davis Medical Center to the Salvation Army following a double mastectomy. The shelter had no bed to offer her, and she wound up sleeping in a car. She remains homeless.
A recent poll by a nonprofit advocacy group, the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, found that improper discharges of poor patients from health care agencies is not uncommon in the capital city. Seven of 13 homeless services agencies that answered a survey by the group in January reported that recently released patients had been delivered to their campuses without prior notification, some of them still in their hospital gowns and with open wounds.
In light of the survey results, the homeless coalition’s director, Bob Erlenbusch, on Wednesday called upon city and county leaders to immediately hold a joint hearing on the issue and to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against patient dumping that would impose hefty fines and other penalties on violators.
Hernandez’s bill, Senate Bill 1152, amends an existing law that prohibits health facilities from transferring homeless patients from one county to another for care without prior planning.
The proposed legislation would require hospitals and other health care organizations to have an explicit “homeless patient discharge planning policy and process” that would require obtaining written permission from shelters before transferring patients to them.
In addition, it would prohibit discharging a homeless patient to a location other than another licensed health facility, a social services agency or provider that has agreed in writing to take the person, or “an alternative destination” confirmed in writing by the patient. It also would mandate that patients have proper attire and necessary medications.
The bill’s initial language does not address penalties for violators, but may do so in the future, Hernandez said.
California’s Health and Safety Code requires hospitals to have a discharge policy for all patients, including those who are homeless. But hospital officials have said the task is sometimes difficult for health professionals dealing with people who have no place to live, and who may have mental health issues.
Hernandez, who chairs the Senate’s health committee, said the state’s burgeoning homeless crisis has put pressure on hospitals that increasingly are dealing with poor people with complicated health problems.
“How are we as a society going to deal with these very vulnerable people?” Hernandez said. “We need to have that conversation. some of these people are literally left out in the cold wearing hospital gowns and booties. That’s not what our society should be about.”