Paraplegic Man Sues Hospital For “Dumping” Him in Skid Row Gutter Without a Wheelchair

January 17, 2008 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – Attorneys for Public Counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, and the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. filed a lawsuit today against a southern California hospital, Hollywood Presbyterian, on behalf of a paraplegic homeless man who was “dumped” in a skid row gutter. Gabino Olvera, a 42-year-old man with a history of mental illness, was treated and discharged from the hospital in February 2007, transported by van across town in a soiled hospital gown, and deposited on the side of a street without a wheelchair. According to the complaint, witnesses at the scene observed Olvera dragging himself on the ground with his papers clenched in his teeth.

“Los Angeles is ground zero in the fight against the unlawful dumping of homeless patients by hospitals,” said Hernán Vera, Directing Attorney of the Consumer Law Project at Public Counsel, the nation’s largest public interest, pro bono law firm. “What Hollywood Presbyterian did to Mr. Olvera is the most obscene and callous example of this practice that we have seen, and sets a new low in the treatment of the homeless.”

According to the lawsuit, Hollywood Presbyterian and its medical staff acted negligently in not heeding the signs of his mental illness, failing to diagnose and treat Olvera’s urinary tract infection, and discharging him in a helpless condition. “Hospitals have an obligation to treat all their patients with dignity and respect,” stated Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “In this case, Hollywood Presbyterian left a paraplegic literally in the gutter without his wheelchair to drag himself to safety as best he could. It was like they lit a match to the Hippocratic Oath.”

In addition to unspecified damages, the lawsuit filed on behalf of Olvera seeks to ensure that Hollywood Presbyterian puts procedures in place to end this practice at its facility. “One of the goals in filing this lawsuit is to change how these defendants do business, to force them to adopt long-overdue institutional policies which will stop their inhumane dumping of the homeless, the unemployed and/or the uninsured members of our community,” stated Steven Archer, a partner at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P., and one of the attorneys representing Olvera. “Each and all of our citizens are entitled to be treated with dignity and each and all of them should be able to receive necessary emergency medical care and services without the risk that they will be taken miles from home and dumped in the gutter in skid row.”

Today’s filing is not the first case against a major hospital for this type of practice. In 2006, the ACLU of Southern California and Public Counsel filed a lawsuit against Kaiser Foundation Hospitals for the unlawful dumping of Carol Reyes, a 64-year-old mentally ill woman captured on videotape in her Kaiser hospital gown and socks wandering along the streets of skid row after being dropped off by taxi. Kaiser has since agreed to change its policies and implement a series of new protocols specifically to address the issue of homeless patient discharge.

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