Patient Dumping: A Shocking Form of Nursing Home Abuse

Patient dumping on old African American man outdoors

If someone asked you to imagine a scenario that epitomizes our society’s negligence towards the elderly or disabled, it would probably be something unthinkable like throwing a mentally-ill senior out on the street for no good reason, right? Believe it or not, nursing homes do this sort of thing all the time. It’s called patient dumping, and unfortunately, it’s exactly what it sounds like: “dumping” vulnerable patients out of their care facilities by means of wrongful and ungrounded eviction.

This deplorable practice is a form of nursing home abuse and can have very serious consequences. In one extreme case back in April, an 88-year-old man with dementia was found wandering around the streets of Los Angeles by himself. He had been living in a nursing home called Lakeview Terrace when the staff suddenly evicted him and sent him to an unlicensed boardinghouse without even informing his family. 

When he escaped the next day, the police found him walking around the city alone and contacted his nephew, who agreed to take him in for the time being, despite the fact that he could not provide the level of care and attention his uncle needed. One night, in a horrific turn of events, the nephew woke up under the shadow of his uncle holding a kitchen knife, before being stabbed in the back and in the head. Fortunately, it was not fatal; he ended up in the hospital, and his uncle, who turned 89 years old in May, is in jail. 

While this may seem like a uniquely harrowing case, all instances of patient dumping can have very dire consequences, so knowing the facts, your rights, and the law is essential to combating this type of abuse. 

What is Patient Dumping?

Patient dumping, also known as involuntary discharge, is the wrongful — and illegal — eviction of a patient from their care facility without meeting a certain criteria. For example, this may (and often does) occur when a resident is sent off to the hospital to receive temporary treatment and the nursing home gives away his or her bed to someone else. When the patient is released from the hospital and wants to return to the nursing home, he or she is denied readmittance.

These evicted residents have nowhere to go, so they are either sent back to their families, who may be unequipped to care for them, or worse, they’re placed in entirely unsafe environments such as homeless shelters, rundown motels, or unregulated boarding houses. 

Why Does Patient Dumping Occur?

While the reasons may be layered and the circumstances vary from case to case, more often than not you’ll find that if you dig deep enough it usually comes down to — you guessed it — money. The grim reality is that nursing homes have gotten into the habit of evicting their most costly and burdensome residents, particularly those who require the highest level of care and attention from the staff, such as the elderly or disabled. Studies also show that low-income, longer-term patients who are on Medicaid are dumped in favor of short-term patients who can pay through private insurance, Medicare, or who possess greater financial resources. 

Moreover, the financial incentive becomes clearer when you consider that Medicaid reimburses nursing homes at a much lower rate than Medicare. In California, the CAHF reports that the average Medicaid (known in the state as Medi-Cal) reimbursement rate for a nursing home is about $220 per day, whereas the Medicare reimbursement rate may be as high as $1,000 or more per day, for up to 20 days, after which patients pay part of the fees. Also, Medicare ends completely after 100 days, so it’s easy to see why facilities favor Medicare patients who stay for short periods before moving elsewhere. 

Is Patient Dumping On The Rise Due to Covid-19?

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many nursing homes have been clearing out old and disabled residents to free up space for patients with Covid-19. In several states, this is in part due to the fact that these facilities have been enlisted to ease the burden of overcrowded hospitals hit hard by the outbreak. While this may be true, we must also take into account that there is a financial incentive in all of this. 

Typically, nursing homes make most of their business from post-surgery rehabilitation, which has slowed down tremendously in the past few months as states have put restrictions on hospitals performing nonessential services. Taking in patients with Covid-19 has become a new and lucrative way for struggling nursing homes to recover from that financial loss.The California Department of Social Services, for example, is offering up to $1,000 dollars a day to assisted living facilities taking in coronavirus patients. Essentially, it’s the same quick Medicare buck they were making before, but now most of it is coming from Covid-19 patients, and, just like before, the same longer-term patients are getting pushed out: the elderly, the poor, the disabled. 

The frustrating irony is that nursing homes are the last place that should be housing Covid-19 patients. Not only does common sense dictate that the elderly are far more likely to get gravely ill and die from the virus, but statistics show that more than 40% of Covid-19 deaths in the United States have taken place at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. In Los Angeles County, the severity of coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes is no less severe. Not only is this practice putting senior citizens at risk of becoming infected, it’s also causing more and more of them to be wrongfully evicted.

The lack of accountability is also making things worse. With nursing homes not allowing visitors during the pandemic, many of them are using this as a window to illegally kick out old and disabled people to make room for coronavirus patients. As the evicted (and possibly infected) residents get unsafely discharged to hostile environments like homeless shelters and rundown motels, it’s a cruel and deadly trap — with a large profit margin — for the most vulnerable sector of the population.

Patient Dumping is Against The Law: Know Your Rights

Federal and California laws provide very strong protections against evictions of nursing home residents. Under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 42 CFR 483, the facility must permit each resident to remain in the facility unless:

  • It is necessary for the resident’s welfare and the resident’s needs cannot be met in the facility
  • The resident’s health has improved sufficiently so the resident no longer needs the services provided by the facility
  • The safety of individuals in the facility is endangered due to the clinical or behavioral status of the resident 
  • The health of individuals in the facility would otherwise be endangered
  • The resident has failed, after reasonable and appropriate notice, to pay
  • The facility ceases to operate

Even if one or more of the above circumstances are met, there is a protocol that must be followed in order to legally evict a patient:

  • Residents must be given a 30-day written notice of the transfer or discharge containing the reasons for the move in a language and manner they can understand
  • Reasons for eviction must be properly documented 
  • The appropriate parties must be informed to ensure that the resident can be properly taken care of after the eviction.

How To File A Nursing Home Abuse Claim

In spite of the law, nursing homes continue to dump residents and continue to get away with it — now, during this time of crisis, more than ever. This is a very serious form of abuse. For more information on what constitutes an unfair eviction (or other forms of elder abuse), see this guide on how to protect the rights of nursing home residents.

If you or a loved one has been involuntarily discharged from a nursing home or assisted living facility, our elder abuse attorneys at Berberian Ain can help you file a civil claim. We will gather the evidence needed to prove instances of negligence, explore your available legal options, and help you seek the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation — we take these types of cases very seriously. Giving up your home is not a decision that anyone makes lightly; we’re here to make sure that no one makes that decision for you.