LOS ANGELES – Three hospitals acknowledge putting discharged homeless patients into taxicabs and sending them to the downtown skid row area, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Representatives of Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles and Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center said they were helping patients because skid row offers them their best chance of getting services and shelter.
Patients are sent to skid row only if they are healthy enough, the representatives said.
"One of the challenges is that there are very few places that will take patients coming out of the hospital, even when they are medically cleared," said Mehera Christian, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente Metro Los Angeles. "There are just a scarce number of places in the community to assist our homeless."
A Los Angeles Police Department report had accused the three hospitals and several suburban law enforcement agencies of leaving homeless people and criminals downtown. The suburban departments deny the accusation.
Police say the skid row neighborhood generates roughly one-fifth of the city's drug arrests.
Hospital social workers usually meet with patients to try to connect them with agencies or groups that could help them, then provide them transportation, Christian said. She said about half of patients say where they want to go, and none are forcibly taken anywhere.
Joseph Epps, an attorney for Hollywood Presbyterian, said hospital policy calls for homeless and indigent patients to be taken by hospital van to the Los Angeles Mission on skid row or to be given taxi vouchers to go wherever they want.
Police Capt. Andy Smith said patients don't always reach their destinations, and that he often sees "individuals with not one but sometimes two different hospital bracelets, and people with bandages on, people who are barely ambulatory, and we'll end up calling an ambulance. Sometimes they are in such bad shape they are incoherent."