On a night with temperatures dropping below freezing, hospital personnel at the University of Maryland Medical Center dumped a 22-year-old woman out onto the curbside, clad in nothing but a hospital gown. No shoes. No underwear.
Imamu Baraka, a psychologist who was leaving work nearby, noticed the hospital staffers throwing the woman, reportedly named Rebecca, out in the cold. Aghast, he took out his phone and filmed the incident. The footage shows Rebecca as she stumbles over to a nearby bench, coughing, shivering and visibly disoriented. The psychologist confronts the hospital staff, asking for a manager, and checks on the shivering woman.
Baraka posted the video on Facebook and it has since gone viral, with almost 3 million views just days since it was uploaded. He said he started recording because he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
"I had no choice but to give this young lady a voice in this moment," Baraka told the Associated Press.
Gene Sperling, who was a national economy advisor for both Clinton and Obama, tweeted that those responsible for the incident should be charged with "attempted murder."
Good for you @Imamu_Baraka. What you stopped is not just "patient dumping" of "not fulfilling" their "mission with this patient" as MD Med Center said. It seems more like attempted murder that your decency stopped. https://t.co/zFpjLc1Q40
— Gene Sperling (@genebsperling) January 11, 2018
The incident has bolstered the arguments of advocates for a single-payer health care system, who argue that patient dumping is a symptom of an underfunded, unbalanced healthcare system.
RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, said following the incident that the only solution to this kind of treatment of patients is to "implement single-payer, Medicare for All or Americans continue to suffer/die."
A recent Los Angeles Times article noted that,
"The Commission on Civil Rights’ report found insufficient regulatory oversight as well as a lack of funding to adequately treat the population contributed to patient dumping. The commission called for reforms to the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act, increased oversight and training, better linking community mental health services to hospitals, and consistent discharge planning.”
The hospital’s president and CEO, Mohan Suntha, publicly apologized to the patient and called the event an isolated incident.
“We take full responsibility for this failure,” Suntha said in a news conference on January 11, acknowledging the hospital’s lack of “basic humanity and compassion.”
The patient's mother called those responsible for tossing her daughter out on the street, “callous and heartless,” according to a CBS News report. The patient’s mother also reportedly told CBS her daughter is mentally ill illness and has Asperger's syndrome, and is currently being treated elsewhere.
Suntha said the hospital is investigating further and reviewing its patient discharge policies.
In the wake of the video, many are questioning the lack of basic human decency of the hospital employees responsible, and the apparent pervasiveness of patient dumping. Patient dumping is not a new phenomenon, nor is it uncommon, according to a detailed report by the LA Times, which explains that patient dumping has been going on in the U.S. at least since the 1870s, which is when the New York Times first started covering the practice. Back then, patient dumping mainly referred to private hospitals turning away poor patients and sending them to public hospitals instead.
It’s no longer legal for hospitals and emergency rooms to deny people treatment if they can’t pay, but patient dumping continues.
In 2007, "60 Minutes" covered Kaiser Permanente’s commonplace patient dumping of homeless people wearing nothing but hospital gowns in Los Angeles, and in 2017 the Washington Post detailed patient dumping at Washington D.C.’s Howard University Hospital. There are hundreds of reported incidents of patient dumping in the last couple of decades.