California legislators have engineered a law that could end the practice of hospitals ‘dumping’ poor people and homeless patients immediately after treatment.
Beginning in July, writes the Sacramento Bee, ‘hospitals must document in writing that shelters have beds for homeless patients before sending them to the facilities.’ Healthcare providers are also required to feed and clothe homeless patients.
Spurred in part by horror stories of hospitals running the homeless amok, the passage of House Bill 1152 ensures the impoverished still receive medication and transportation upon discharge.
The Bee claims the legislation, authored by Democratic state Sen. Ed Hernandez, was inspired by its own media reports of negligence.
In one case outlined by the Bee, cancer patient Lara Woods was ‘discharged from UC Davis Medical Center following a double mastectomy to a shelter that had no bed for her.’
Woods wound up having to recover in a car, where she slept for weeks.
Her story isn’t unique, either. In another instance—also documented by the Bee—an elderly Sacramento man named Arlan Lewis was left to the streets after a shelter said it couldn’t accommodate him.
Polls by the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness have found that improper discharges, especially of homeless patients, aren’t uncommon. The fault doesn’t always lie with shelters, either. Of the shelters surveyed, seven out of thirteen said ‘recently released patients had been delivered to their campuses without prior notification, some of them still in hospital gowns and with open wounds.’
Coalition leader Bob Erlenbusch said House Bill 1152’s passage is a solid first step toward preventing negligent discharges.
“I hope hospitals are going to properly train discharge planners so that this really makes a difference,” Erlenbusch said.
My hope is this will help homeless Californians be treated with the dignity they deserve. A specific statewide policy for safely discharging homeless patients from a hospital is vital.
— Dr. Ed Hernandez (@dredhernandez) October 10, 2018
But the Bee says that violation of the new legislation doesn’t carry any particular penalties. Hospitals that try to circumvent its provisions ‘could face repercussions from the state Department of Public Health and the federal government, both of which regulate health facilities.’
The law additionally empowers local governments to create and pass ordinances that’d standardize the fair treatment of poor and homeless patients within their jurisdiction.
Hospitals, not surprisingly, opposed House Bill 1152 from its inception.
California Hospital Association’s vice president of rural health care and governance, Peggy Wheeler, said local ordinances could be unnecessarily strict. Moreover, claims Wheeler, the homeless can exacerbate their own plight by refusing transportation or shelter.
“Our hospitals don’t dump patients,” Wheeler said. “Sometimes, patients elope from the hospital in their gowns and with their wristbands. They’re not prisoners. We attempt to get people into shelters, but sometimes they refuse, or there are simply no beds.”
Wheeler and Erlenbusch both agreed that California cities are in need of more “respite beds” for homeless patients who meet the conditions for discharge but remain too frail to survive the streets.
Hernandez said he hopes the legislation and discharge mandates will lead to hospitals working more closely with charities, social service agencies and community organizations.
“I believe the way in which we treat our most vulnerable individuals is a reflection of our society as a whole,” Hernandez said. “That’s why California must do everything possible to help homeless individuals get back on their feet, and I believe SB 1152 is a vital step toward achieving that reality.”