LOS ANGELES A mentally ill paraplegic man filed a lawsuit on Thursday against a hospital that dumped him in a gutter on Los Angeles' "Skid Row" -- a case that highlighted the plight of the city's vast homeless population.
Gabino Olvera, 42, sued the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center for negligence after it discharged him in February 2007, took him across town in a van and left him in a soiled hospital gown without a wheelchair in the heart of the city's homeless area.
Witnesses who came to Olvera's aid said they saw him dragging himself on the ground with hospital papers and documents clenched in his teeth while the driver sat in her van and applied makeup before driving off.
The incident was captured by security cameras at a nearby homeless shelter.
Hernan Vera, a lawyer with Public Counsel, which helped bring the lawsuit on behalf on Olvera, called it "the most obscene and callous example of this practice that we have seen."
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and seeks unspecified damages.
Hollywood Presbyterian said in a statement it had thoroughly reviewed its patient discharge policies to ensure nothing of the sort ever happened again.
The hospital added it had held extensive talks with Olvera's lawyers and remained optimistic about reaching a satisfactory out-of-court settlement.
The Olvera case was one of about 50 reported incidents in the past 12 months of sick, confused and homeless patients being left by ambulances in the 50-block area of downtown Los Angeles thought to have the highest concentration of homeless people in the United States.
Estimates of the number of homeless in the United States ranges from 500,000 to more than a million.
In Los Angeles, an estimated 12,000 people, many of them mentally ill or addicted to drugs and alcohol, live and sleep on the streets of the area known as Skid Row.
Vera called Los Angeles "ground zero in the fight against unlawful dumping of homeless patients by hospitals."
Lawyers for Olvera said one of the goals of the lawsuit was to force local hospitals to change their practices.
In May, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, the country's largest nonprofit health-care provider, settled a lawsuit involving the dumping of another patient by agreeing to find shelter places for all patients it discharges in Los Angeles.
Kaiser also agreed to improve discharge procedures and to contribute $500,000 to homeless services on Skid Row.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)