This week the Los Angeles Times published an article discussing the settlements of several hospitals that have dumped homeless patients at shelters or on the streets without following proper discharge procedures. Other news articles in the past have explored the same topic, describing, for instance, how a homeless woman was once discharged to Los Angeles’ Skid Row with nothing but a hospital gown and slippers on.
Even under ordinary discharge situations, homeless individuals face a larger set of obstacles in post-hospital recovery than non-homeless individuals. Homeless people are more likely to face difficulty in obtaining adequate food and rest, and in finding shelter in sanitary and unexposed environments. These factors make it difficult for homeless individuals to maintain good health under average circumstances, even more so under improper discharge situations.
Several of the patient dumping situations cited in the article have led to costly settlements for hospital groups, such as $125,000 in penalties and charitable contributions paid by Centinela Freeman Holdings, and $1.6 million paid by College Hospital. Settlements like these may lead hospital groups to think twice before engaging in improper discharge procedures, and could potentially help protect the interests of homeless individuals in the future.
In the long run however, punishing hospitals for homeless patient dumping will not address the underlying factors that create the problem. Our nation was founded on the concept that all human beings are born equal and deserving of the same right to basic human dignity, yet these practices show how far we have strayed from that ideal. Our nation will need to confront the formidable healthcare and housing barriers that low-income and homeless individuals face daily before we will truly see the situation improve.
Articles such as Malcolm Gladwell’s “Million-Dollar Murray” show how costly it can be not to provide adequate housing and healthcare for homeless individuals. Certainly, it is in our best interest economically to help homeless individuals attain a higher level of security and health. But equally as important, no human being deserves to be treated like trash, and we all need to take responsibility to re-humanize homeless persons so incidents like these never happen again.
-Stefani Cox, Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow