LOS ANGELES – Civil rights activists sued a hospital Thursday for releasing a paraplegic, mentally ill man who was found crawling in a Skid Row gutter in what the lawsuit describes as an "obscene" case of homeless dumping.
The suit contends that Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was negligent in its treatment and discharge of Gabino Olvera, 42.
Olvera was released from the hospital in February. According to the lawsuit filed on his behalf, he was first taken to a downtown Skid Row mission but returned to the hospital because the shelter could not care for him.
He then spent eight hours in a wheelchair in the lobby before he was again taken 6 1/2 miles by van and left on a street, the suit contends.
Witnesses said the man, who lost the use of his legs in a car crash, had a catheter attached and was wearing only a soiled hospital gown. He was blocks from any shelter.
"Mr. Olvera had no choice but to physically drag himself along the gutter of the street with his belongings in a bag clenched in his teeth," the lawsuit said.
He was taken to another hospital for treatment.
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court, contends that the hospital failed to investigate or treat signs of Olvera's mental illness, failed to diagnose and treat his urinary tract infection and discharged him in a helpless condition.
"It was like they lit a match to the Hippocratic oath," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
The incident was one of several reports last year of patients who were dumped on Skid Row.
In a statement, the hospital called the lawsuit unnecessary. The hospital said it has held "extensive settlement discussions" with the ACLU to resolve the issues and "we remain optimistic" that an agreement will be reached.
"The plight of homeless individuals, and the provision of healthcare, is a critical social issue, but the homeless problem can't be solved by HPMC alone. The solutions must come from government, but we are committed to doing our part," the hospital said.
"We have stated publicly since the day of this incident that HPMC would never condone dropping an individual at a location without their consent and where accommodations were not apparent," the hospital said.
The hospital said it adopted new policies, staff training and monitoring aimed at preventing dumping.
However, Rosenbaum contended that the hospital has failed to implement some training and oversight measures.
The suit, filed by the ACLU, the Public Counsel Law Center and a local law firm, seeks unspecified damages and a court order for the hospital to comply with "all laws and regulations regarding the discharge of homeless patients." It alleges negligence, abuse of a dependent adult, and breach of fiduciary duty and names the hospital's corporate owners, a transportation company and the van driver that took Olvera to Skid Row.
The city attorney's office filed civil charges of unfair business practices against the hospital and van service because there is no city law specifically barring patient dumping.
The case is scheduled for trial on April 15, spokesman Nick Velasquez said.