Officials from Los Angeles County recently announced a settlement with Silver Lake Medical Center, a psychiatric hospital in that city, over allegations that the hospital improperly discharged homeless psychiatric patients to avoid the cost of treating them.
"The hospital's blatant disregard for the law and its patients' well-being cannot be ignored or go unpunished," said the LA District Attorney. "Our homeless community deserves to be treated with the same humanity, dignity and respect that any of us would expect, especially from those tasked with our care and protection."
The settlement requires the hospital to pony up $550,000 toward a new Homeless Patient Assistance Program. $250,000 of that will go directly toward covering the expenses housing providers charge for offering suitable housing placements that homeless patients cannot afford.
It must also implement a sweeping "Special Populations Discharge Planning Protocol" and train all hospital staff involved in discharge planning on the new protocol. Silver Lake is also required to:
- Provide discharged patients with information on the best housing options to meet their needs and confirm their availability before discharge
- Ensure that homeless patients are offered appropriate transportation and a "warm hand-off"
- Determine if the patients are eligible for housing or social services and assist them in identifying and applying for those benefits
- Provide information about how patients can access psychiatric, medical and social services after discharge
After achieving this and seven other patient dumping cases, the Los Angeles City Attorney and District Attorney announced that they will co-host a summit later this summer on how to humanely discharge homeless patients. It will involve staff from various facilities in Southern California, along with experts in health, social services and law enforcement.
The City Attorney's Office initiated its investigation into Silver Lake Medical Center because of the actions of a whistleblower. That person provided information indicating that the facility had allegedly engaged in a pattern of patient dumping over an extended period of time.
People in the healthcare field are often in a position to notice wrongdoing on behalf of their employers. Sometimes, they witness fraud, waste or abuse in government contracts with Medicare, Medicare or other government-sponsored health plans. Or, they may notice other unethical or unlawful behavior, such as patient dumping.
If you are considering blowing the whistle, you need to present a persuasive case if your concerns are to be heard. You also need to protect yourself from retaliation. Discuss the situation with an attorney familiar with whistleblower law for information and counsel.