Scripps Mercy Hospital
Scripps Mercy Hospital. File photo

The San Diego City Attorney’s Office alleged Monday that Scripps Health illegally discharged a schizophrenic patient from one of its hospitals in 2019, leaving the man to his own devices despite a court order requiring that he be placed in a skilled nursing facility.

The unidentified 68-year-old man, who had been found by a court to be “so gravely disabled that he could not care for his own basic personal needs,” was discharged from Scripps Mercy Hospital to a group home, where he “was left to manage his own prescriptions and keep medical and psychiatric appointments without transportation,” according to the City Attorney’s Office.

The office has filed a civil enforcement action against Scripps Health and is seeking an injunction prohibiting the healthcare system from engaging in unfair competition, defined as “any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice,” as well as civil penalties of at least $1 million.

The complaint alleges that Scripps Health failed to have a discharge planning process that identifies patients likely to face adverse consequences upon discharge. The hospital also allegedly failed to transfer or refer the patient and his medical information to an appropriate facility for follow-up care.

According to the City Attorney’s Office, the man’s case manager has filed a separate complaint with the Community Care Licensing division of the state’s Department of Social Services, which alleges Scripps failed to ensure appropriate care for him.

Scripps Health said it could not speak to the specifics of the case due to laws protecting patient privacy, but flatly denied the claims, saying they were “completely outrageous” and “unwarranted.”

According to Scripps, the case was previously referred to the California Department of Public Health, “which found no deficiencies in the actions of Scripps Mercy.”

“It is unconscionable for the City Attorney to try to use this case to misrepresent the great work Scripps Mercy does in serving thousands of homeless and mentally ill patients each year,” the statement says. “We look forward to defending ourselves in court.”

The City Attorney’s Office says it first learned of the man in 2018 while investigating an independent living facility in the College Area, where he was found “disheveled and living in filthy conditions.” On a subsequent visit, he was found to be “naked and delusional, thinking the year was 1992.”

He was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold and taken to the hospital, where employees allegedly described him as delusional and refusing to attend to his basic needs. One doctor allegedly noted that the patient’s severe schizophrenia would preclude him from maintaining himself independently in the community.

After he was discharged, the City Attorney’s Office says its personnel conducted a welfare check at the group home and found that the man had not showered for days, had not taken his medicine and that his bedsheets were soiled with feces. He was removed from the group home and ultimately placed in a skilled nursing facility out of the county.

“Our office is putting San Diego hospitals on notice that ‘patient dumping’ is inhumane, illegal and will not be tolerated,” San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott said. “Scripps Health knew this vulnerable patient could not care for himself, and instead of putting his well-being first, left him to fend for himself. This conduct is inexcusable and horrific.”

Scripps’ statement says: “Taking care of the region’s most vulnerable patients is not a business for us, it is our mission. We would never engage in patient dumping. We believe no hospital in San Diego is more dedicated to serving the needs of patients with behavioral health issues or those experiencing homelessness than is Scripps Mercy. We strive to provide all of them with exceptional care.”