BALTIMORE – More than a week after a woman was left outside a Baltimore hospital on a cold night wearing only a patient gown and socks, no answers have been provided about how or why the incident occurred.
Officials at the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown said they still are investigating why the woman was escorted out of the hospital by uniformed security personnel and left at a city bus stop after being discharged from the emergency room. Hospital administrators said in a statement that they already have started to implement changes to discharge procedures as a result of the widely publicized incident.
“We are nearing the conclusion of the investigation and are implementing appropriate personnel actions,” the statement said. “We have added additional layers of consultation and accountability around the post-discharge process in certain situations, as well as enhanced coordination of the range of services to meet the social needs of patients.”
The state’s Office of Health Care Quality and the federal Centers For Medicare & Medicaid Services also are examining what happened.
The state agency is a branch of the Maryland Health Department that licenses and certifies health facilities and programs throughout Maryland. The Medicare and Medicaid office enforces a federal law that forbids emergency rooms from denying hospital services if patients can’t pay. Under the law, hospitals must “stabilize” patients before releasing them or transfer those they can’t to other facilities that can help them. Still, precise discharge policies can differ by hospital.
“The investigation is ongoing, and the report will be released once it has been finalized,” said Brittany Fowler, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Health Department, in an email. “I do not have an exact timeline at this point of when that will occur.”
The incident, which occurred in the late evening of Jan. 9, was caught on video by local psychotherapist Imamu Baraka, who saw hospital security personnel leave her on the street. The woman in the video appears disoriented and unsteady, and she stumbles a few times. What appears to be four security guards are shown walking back into the hospital. One of them pushes an empty wheelchair. The woman also seems to have trouble speaking or responding when Baraka asks if she needs help. At one point she screams.
Baraka, who narrated what was happening in the video, called 911 for help and the woman was transported back to UMMC Midtown’s emergency room. The hospital later sent her to a homeless shelter by taxi.
City officials said they will work with hospitals to house homeless patients.
“We try and accommodate all homeless individuals regardless of the circumstances,” said Amanda Rodrigues-Smith, spokeswoman for Mayor Catherine Pugh. “Once they are discharged from the hospital, we accommodate those individuals. It’s based on hospital policy if they choose to call us first. The service is available. That’s a standard provision.”
It is unclear how often such incidents of so-called “patient dumping” occur because it is not tracked. But patients rights advocates say it does happen.
“I’ve been monitoring reviews for hospitals for two years and I can tell patient dumping is definitely occurring in the state,” said Anna Palmisano, the coordinator for Marylanders for Patient Rights, a coalition of 13 advocacy groups, that has been trying for several years to update the Hospital Patient’s Bill of Rights to better protect vulnerable patients including those who are mentally challenged, elderly or disabled.
“If the hospital staff had gotten training they would not have treated the woman this way,” Rodrigues-Smith said.
The University of Maryland Medical Center’s top executive, Dr. Mohan Suntha, has apologized for what happened to the patient, but called it an isolated incident.
“We take full responsibility for this failure,” he said during a news conference last week. The hospital did not provide “basic humanity and compassion.”