The city of Sacramento will investigate medical facilities that drop off homeless patients at shelters and on city streets without notice and will consider levying fines against hospitals that engage in patient “dumping.”
Councilman Steve Hansen on Tuesday called on the city attorney to investigate recent cases of homeless patients left at shelters and parks, including one incident earlier this month in which an amputee without hands or legs was found sleeping in a wheelchair in midtown’s Fremont Park. The man told police he had been bused to Sacramento from a Stockton hospital, according to a police report. A police officer drove the man to Sutter General Hospital for treatment.
Hansen also asked that the City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee draft an ordinance cracking down on patient dumping. He said the city needs regulations that will “put an end to these inhumane practices.”
“The tragic stories of homeless people being dumped on our streets after release from hospitals and jails requires a strong response from the city and our partners,” Hansen said.
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The nonprofit Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness recently surveyed homeless service agencies about improper hospital discharges. Agencies reported that they regularly see homeless patients dropped off on their campuses without prior contact from hospitals.
Coalition executive director Bob Erlenbusch called the discharge practices “systemic” and inhumane.
“This is not a case of discharging homeless people to the streets every once in a while or a few cases of bad apples,” Erlenbusch told the City Council. “This is every major hospital in the region.”
Erlenbusch called for an ordinance that includes “serious fines” against hospitals found to have dumped patients. An ordinance in Los Angeles includes hefty fines, and hospitals there have been forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties since the ordinance was enacted in 2008.
A bill introduced this month in the state Senate would require hospitals to get written confirmation from homeless shelters before discharging patients to those facilities.
Lara Woods, 46, says she was “dumped” last month following a double mastectomy at UC Davis Medical Center. As reported in The Sacramento Bee, Woods said she was taken from the hospital to Salvation Army by ride share, only to learn that no beds were available.
UC Davis has since said the hospital tried to find Woods a shelter bed prior to her release. When staffers told her none was available, Woods asked to leave and was sent from the hospital by ride share, said spokeswoman Pamela Wu.
Woods denied that she insisted on leaving the hospital without assurance of a shelter bed. She is undergoing chemotherapy for her breast cancer at UC Davis and living out of her car.
In another recent case, a car dropped off at First Step Communities an elderly woman who was incontinent and had soiled her clothing. The Sacramento nonprofit runs a county program through which area churches host homeless people on cold winter nights.
“We took her in because the car got away before we could talk to anyone,” said First Step director Stephen Watters. “But I am not staffed with medical personnel. We do work with people suffering from incontinence, but if it is a situation that’s out of control, that’s not something we can handle. These people need a level of care that is above what we can offer.”
“This is just one case of many,” Watters said. “I had someone dropped off from a public mental facility, with no call ahead of time, who was in no condition to be in a room with 100 other people” at winter sanctuary. “It seems like these kinds of things are happening much more frequently than in the past.”
In response to the findings by Erlenbusch’s group, Steinberg told The Bee that government leaders should review existing laws and hold hospitals accountable for improperly discharging poor people.
A recent census counted 3,665 people living without permanent shelter in Sacramento County, an increase of about 30 percent since 2015.