Los Angeles launches investigation into psychiatric hospital's alleged 'patient dumping'

A homeless camp on L.A.'s Skid Row. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is investigating claims that a Las Vegas psychiatric hospital has shipped discharged patients to Skid Row.
A homeless camp on L.A.'s Skid Row. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is investigating claims that a Las Vegas psychiatric hospital has shipped discharged patients to Skid Row.
Andres Aguila/KPCC

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Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has launched an investigation into claims that a psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas is "basically dumping" hundreds of patients in L.A.

Trutanich said he wants to know how many discharged patients have ended up in L.A.—and who's responsible for shipping them hundreds of miles west.

“We received information that over 150 psychiatric patients from at least one, possibly two, state- run hospitals from Nevada, over the course of a number of years, had engaged in a program of basically dumping these patients on the streets of Los Angeles,” said Trutanich. 

These patients were only a couple hundred of many, according to a report from the Sacramento Bee that stated approximately 1,500 patients were improperly discharged by the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital between July 2008 and early March 2013.  

About 500 of these patients were said to be transported to California, spurring San Francisco—as well as Los Angeles—to begin looking into the issue. 

Trutanich said his office doesn't have subpoena power in Nevada. But he said he will file a request through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain records of when patients were discharged and where they were sent. 

The City Attorney said finding the patients in a city with four million people is like finding a needle in a haystack, so he plans to work with Skid Row agencies.

In addition to state, local and federal laws that mandate how a hospital patient is discharged, Los Angeles has had a "patient dumping" ordinance on the books since 2008. It prohibits hospitals from leaving patients at locations other than their home without written consent.

 Violators of this law can be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 or three years probation or both.

"The consequences of taking 150 patients and putting them into the streets without notifying anyone, just leaving them there, one, places the life of that psychiatric patient at risk and two, places the lives of the residents of Los Angeles at risk," said Trutanich.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval addressed the "dumping" allegations this week.

“In early March, it came to my attention that in at least one instance, discharge policies and procedures were not followed at Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas," said Sandoval, adding that they begin investigations soon after. "As a result of our investigations, disciplinary actions have been taken and a corrective plan of action was put into place at Rawson-Neal. "

Los Angeles—a city well-versed in "patient dumping"—has begun its own investigation.

In years past, some hospitals used downtown's Skid Row area and its concentration of homeless people and social services as a dumping ground for patients, some of whom were dropped off still in hospital gowns. 

One high profile cases occurred in 2009, when the City Attorney charged College Hospital with dumping 150 mentally ill patients on Skid Row over the course of two years. The hospital was charged $1.6 million and forbidden from dropping patients in the area again. 

After a few hefty hospital settlements and increased scrutiny, illegal discharging appeared to taper off, said Herb Smith President of the Los Angeles Mission.  

"It's one of those things that resurfaces from time to time and you just have to be aware of it," said Smith. "We do have protocols established for hospital drop-offs because we used to have that problem with some of the hospitals just dumping people in their hospital garb and so forth." 

Smith said he asked staff at the L.A. Mission if they'd discovered any Las Vegas patients in recent days. 

"I've done a little bit of research internally to see if we have come across any of those patients in our services—and to our knowledge, we have not," he said. 

Trutanich emphasized hospital employees—not the hospital as a whole—participated in the improper discharge of patients, and those employees will be held responsible if they violated L.A.'s patient-dumping ordinance.