No Salary But Thank You: Homeless Help Homeless Dumped by UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center
It was the day after the 2018 mid-term elections. Armed federal Homeland Security police, wearing all-black uniforms with the bright yellow initials D.H.S. emblazoned on their body armor, surrounded a half dozen men and women on Los Angeles’ westside, just south of Wilshire Blvd, on Veteran Ave. Along with several patrol cards and a big yellow dump truck, they had surrounded the group, who were rummaging through their possessions in a tent encampment on a stretch of city sidewalk, blocks from the University of California Los Angeles. One white woman, her hair knotted in disheveled mangled clumps atop her head, stood wearing dirty sweatpants. She was carefully disassembling her tent, folding the tent poles and rolling up the canvass, as several officers stood by watching on the sidewalk adjacent to the West Los Angeles Federal Building. At the end of the sidewalk, next to a public park—a tall black man stood pacing. He walked in slow nervous circles near an armed federal officer. The armed man wore dark sunglasses, standing under the bright noon sun, his hand resting comfortably on the pistol holster strapped to a belt around his waist. I could see the grey socked foot and dusty ankle of a person rummaging and gathering his or her possessions as best one could when surrounded by police, in a tent at the edge of that same sidewalk, next to a black painted wrought iron fence that separated the government complex from a public park.
I approached the officer and asked what the feds were doing clearing a homeless encampment in Los Angeles. Was this even their jurisdiction? The officer replied that the Federal Building, and adjoining sidewalk, indeed, was federal property.
The tall black man I saw before hovered around a man in a wheelchair. I asked him whether he lived here—pointing at the tent encampment the police were clearing. He replied adamantly, “No way! I’m from Venice. They are nicer to the homeless over there.” The man in the wheelchair was mumbling about his stuff—and I noticed he wore a blue and white hospital bracelet on his right wrist. The name said Michael Evans—age 55. Michael said he had been discharged from the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center the day before yesterday—he was in the ER waiting for what seemed like forever, but then when he said he was a U.S. Navy veteran, they said they couldn’t treat him—he had to go the VA.
The VA is a few miles from UCLA Medical Center; you walk a mile down Westwood Blvd to Wilshire Blvd, take a right, and pass the Los Angeles National Cemetery, with its row after row of white tombstones for American soldiers killed in combat. Avoiding cars speeding up and off the freeway on-ramp, one crosses under the I-405 freeway, and a few hundred yards later, arrive at the VA Hospital. It’s a little less than two miles, a rough road for a sick man in a wheelchair.
“Did UCLA Hospital arrange you transport to the VA?” I asked. He squirmed by the question, uncomfortably adjusting himself in his seat. “No,” he muttered, grumbling. “I wheeled myself out.” Michael said he served in the US Navy from 1980 to 1984. I took a closer look at him. A white man with a dark and grimy sunburned neck, his nails were painted a dark pine forest green, and his feet—well he wore flip flops—his feet were so swollen that no shoe would have been able to fit them. His right foot spread out like in a massive flat puddle of flesh collecting on the ground—a cartoon caricature of a foot, far removed from what a healthy foot should look like. He could barely wheel himself at all, his chair sinking into the soft dirt and clumps of park grass. His arms were bony and thin, it didn’t seem like he wasn’t used to wheeling himself around the city all day.
Michael said he had to use the bathroom, asking a uniformed sheriff deputy where a public restroom might be. He also seemed upset by my questioning, as I exclaimed accusatorily that what the hospital might have discharged him illegally. The County cop, a Latino officer in his mid-50’s with a thick bushy greying mustache and buzz cut, raised his hand off his holster, pointed towards the middle of the park, and said there was a bathroom there he could use, before returning his arm to its former position. As we were talking a young woman, wearing a soiled white t-shirt covering her chest and torso, arrived seemingly out of nowhere. “I’ll take you sweetie; you have to go to the bathroom?” She asked, raising her voice at the end in a high-pitched tone of concern. “Yes,” he nodded affirmatively. “Here, come with me.” She grabbed the wheelchair’s back handles and began to push it across the park. “You trust me, right?” She asked. Michael nodded, happy to leave the sight of the police, my prying investigation, and grateful for the chance to finally pee.
State Senator Ed Hernandez lost a bid to become California’s next Lieutenant Governor, the day before. Senator Hernandez was a key sponsor SB 1152, a bill designed to stop hospital homeless patient dumping, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law at the end of September. The new law requires California hospitals to implement homeless patient discharge policies; to assure that homeless patients have a place to go, are offered a ride there, and aren’t just dumped on the sidewalk somewhere, or pushed out of the ER to the nearest bus stop. Unfortunately for Michael Evans, the law doesn’t fully go into effect until July 1st, 2019; what UCLA did might still be technically legal, maybe. While there are other laws that help sick homeless vets like Michael; such as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, and the city of Los Angeles’ 2008 ordinance against patient dumping in skid row, they are notoriously difficult to enforce. The most hospitals ever have had to do is to settle out of court every couple of years with LA City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office for a few hundred thousand dollars—a million dollar fine at most. Far less than what their risk-management departments calculated cost savings from denying America’s homeless, disoriented, mentally ill, sick, and poor necessary medical care. Hopefully the new law will change this barbaric practice.
But at least there are unsung heroes, like the young homeless woman, who, scantily clad, in need of a bath, living on the street engaged in who knows what or worse to survive—had the heart to offer a helping hand. With no salary but thank you, no motivation but compassion, she offered to wheel Michael to a nearby bathroom, to help him so he wouldn’t soil or piss himself. UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center is the 7th top rated hospital in the United States of America with over $3.8 billion dollars in annual revenue.