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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Debate of Criminalizing Dumping Homeless Patients

From latimes.com: Despite the public outrage over the dumping of homeless patients on Los Angeles' skid row, there is growing debate about whether criminalizing the practice would solve the problem.

As the number of suspected dumping cases reached 55 last week, a state senator announced legislation that would make it a misdemeanor for hospitals to transport patients and leave them on the streets against their will.

But some legal experts question whether the law could be effective without a parallel effort to provide more shelter and services for chronically ill homeless patients who are well enough to leave the hospital but have no place for continuing medical services.

There are only about 40 "recuperative beds" available in L.A. for homeless people who need medical attention after being discharged from hospitals, officials said, and there is general agreement that's not enough. The proposed law, legal experts say, might be vulnerable, because it seems to make hospitals alone responsible for finding care for these patients.

"It is more complicated than it first appears," said Russ Korobkin, a UCLA law professor who teaches health law. "Requiring hospitals to be responsible for the patients and not leave them in the gutter is a first step. But you've got to have a second step of providing some government-funded beds for recovery."

Otherwise, he and others said, the law essentially creates an "unfunded mandate" — which could be challenged in court — that hospitals must not only treat the sick but also find housing for them upon their release. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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