LA, Gardens Regional Hospital settle 'dumping' case

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Gardens Regional Hospital and Medical Center has agreed to $450,000 in civil penalties to settle a city of Los Angeles lawsuit alleging that the facility illegally "dumped" a mentally ill homeless patient on Skid Row, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Tuesday.

For its part, the hospital lashed out at Feuer and his office, maintaining that it did nothing wrong, and that it only settled because it's in bankruptcy. Brian Walton, Chairman of the Board of Gardens Regional, accused the city attorney of "political grandstanding" and of "playing 'gotcha' with hospitals."

In a statement, Feuer said "patient dumping is an unconscionable practice and will not be tolerated." The city attorney has aggressively pursued dumping cases since he took office three years ago. This is the sixth settlement he has secured; the penalties add up to more than $3 million.

Feuer sued Gardens Regional, a nonprofit in Hawaiian Gardens, in April 2015. The complaint claimed that on Sept. 4, 2014, the hospital dumped a homeless schizophrenic woman dressed in hospital paper tops and bottoms in front of the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row. The suit alleged the patient had no money, identification, medication or shelter arrangements, and wandered aimlessly for a few days before ending up back in the hospital.

The complaint also accused the hospital of discharging the patient at least five different times between Dec. 2013 and Sept. 2014 with little to no discharge plan.

At the time the city filed its suit, Gardens Regional said it was "appalled by the baseless, false and misleading allegations" in the complaint, adding that it was "shocked by the Los Angeles City Attorney's over-reaching action against this community hospital located in another city."

On Tuesday, board chairman Walton said in a statement that Gardens Regional did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

"To the contrary, the Hospital and its staff firmly believe that the care provided to the patient in question was consistent with the applicable standard of care required in these circumstances, and that a trial on the merits would have vindicated the Hospital," he said.  

Gardens Regional settled "primarily because it is currently in bankruptcy, with the goal of completing a sale of virtually all its assets," said Walton. "In such circumstances, the need to wrap up pending litigation, meritless or not, was paramount."

The hospital will not be cutting the city a check for $450,000 under the settlement, Walton continued.

"Rather, the City will have a general unsecured claim in the Hospital's bankruptcy case in the amount of $450,000, which will be paid pro rata, with all other general unsecured creditors, over many years," he said.

Previous settlements

In June, Pacifica Hospital of the Valley agreed to pay the city $1 million to settle the second of two dumping suits brought against the hospital.

The case involved the hospital's discharge of Kasey Lucious, a homeless woman "with a history of mental illness" who was dropped off at a nursing facility and wandered the streets for three days before California Highway Patrol officers found her, according to the city attorney's office.

The hospital's handling of the case violated protocols Pacifica agreed to adopt in May 2014 when it settled a previous patient dumping suit, said Feuer. In that case, the hospital agreed to pay $500,000 to various homeless service providers.

The other dumping cases the city has settled: