Monday, April 13, 2009
Last week, the LA Times reported that College Hospital in Costa Mesa, 40 miles south of LA, "dumped" Steven Davis, whom they had diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, and schizoaffective, outside of Union Rescue Mission located along LA's infamous Skid Row.
Literally, the hospital loaded him into a van, drove him 40 miles north, and dropped him on the street. This is what they call a "dump." College Hospital dumped Steven Davis the way some people dump their excess garbage in shopping mall dumpsters - surreptitiously, with hopefully no one watching.
But the Union Rescue Mission was watching, and when they complained, the van returned - and dumped Steven outside another shelter.
The city attorney reported that College Hospital was responsible for dumping 150 mentally ill in this fashion over 2007-2008. Steven Davis was a key to the city attorney's office making its criminal case. As part of a settlement, the hospital will pay $1.6 million in penalties and charitable donations.The hospital denies any wrongdoing.
In case you are experiencing deja vu, Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, "Sicko," showed security cam footage of a 63-year-old homeless and disoriented woman, Carol Reyes, wearing only a thin hospital gown, dumped in front of the same Union Rescue Mission by Kaiser Permanente's Bellflower Hospital.
Criminal charges were filed against the hospital's officials, and Kaiser paid a large settlement. LA authorities have been cracking down on dumping.
Doing something about Skid Row is far more problematic, an approximate 4x4 square block area where 7,000 to 8,000 homeless - many of them with mental illness - sleep on filthy streets, conveniently out of sight and out of mind to the rest of the world.
On April 24, Hollywood will be giving the area a lot more visibility. That is the day of the much-anticipated release of "The Soloist," starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr, based on a book of the same name by LA Times columnist Steven Lopez. The book and movie chronicle the unlikely friendship forged on Skid Row between Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted cellist who lost his mind to schizophrenia while attending Julliard.
We see only the homeless. But Nathaniel's story is all too typical. Think of schizophrenia as a developmental disease. Kids are leading normal lives. Then - at say age 17 - something happens. One minute they're doing well in school and looking forward to college. Then they start acting a bit strange. Then - bam! - all at once, they are robbed of their minds, their humanity - everything.
Just like that it's over. The illness has a poor outcome, made much poorer by our appalling health care system and the unconscionable way our winner-take-all society turns its back on people they view as losers.
I'm sure "The Soloist" will bring this out loud and clear. I loved "Shine." I loved "A Beautiful Mind." I'm sure I will be profoundly moved by "The Soloist." But if nothing changes for the better in this country as a result, then there will be no feel-good ending.
The Soloist trailer.