Capital Public Radio: Hospitals, Counties Seek Alternatives To ‘Patient Dumping’

June 5, 2018
By Sammy Caiola

When Laurie Teel was nearing the end of her stay at Sutter Auburn Faith hospital this January, she was terrified she’d end up back in the streets.

Teel, then 54, was recovering from a heart attack. It happened just weeks after a landlord evicted her and her pit bull. She told staff at the hospital that she didn’t feel safe on her own.

“I wasn’t going back,” she said. “I couldn’t go back. I’m homeless, and I didn’t want to go back to her old neighborhood because it wasn’t good for me.”

So the hospital’s caseworkers made some calls. They got Teel a spot at an interim care program in a local shelter. Run by WellSpace health and funded by Sacramento’s four major health systems, interim care programs all over the region give homeless people a warm, clean place to recover from illness or injury. Residents also get connected to follow-up medical care, legal aid, food assistance and other social services while applying for permanent housing. The programs serve about 600 people each year.

There’s a high demand for spaces like this to combat a practice called “patient dumping,” whereby hospitals send homeless patients to places that are not equipped to handle their ongoing medical needs. Advocates say it endangers patients and puts a strain on local service agencies. A survey from the nonprofit Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness recently found that patients are frequently dropped at shelters by ambulance or cab, still in a hospital gown and often with an open wound.

A new bill from Democratic Senator Ed Hernandez could require hospitals to discharge homeless patients with a plan for their follow-up care, and would prohibit hospital staff from sending these patients anywhere other than where they live, or a licensed facility or social services provider that has agreed to take the patient.

“I firmly believe how we treat the most vulnerable among us is a reflection on our society,” Hernandez said in a press release. “I want to see hospitals work more closely with homeless services agencies and other providers to ensure they are given the proper care and not discharged in unsafe circumstances.”

 

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