The man hurried up the Baltimore sidewalk with a camera in his hand as four black-clad hospital security guards walked toward him, then past him. One of them was pushing an empty wheelchair.
“So wait, y’all just going to leave this lady out here with no clothes on?” said Imamu Baraka, referring to a dazed woman wearing only a thin hospital gown who they had left alone at a bus stop Tuesday night in mid-30s temperatures. Her face appeared bloody, her eyes empty.
It was the latest incident of “patient dumping” that has sparked outrage around the country – one that, according to an expert, probably violated a 1986 federal law that mandates hospitals release those in their care into a safe environment.
“This kind of behavior is, I think, both illegal and I’m sure immoral,” said Arthur Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine. “You don’t just throw someone out into the street who is impaired and may have injuries. You try to get them to the best place possible, and that’s not the bench in front of the hospital.”
The phenomenon was pervasive two decades ago, when the law was largely unenforced, Caplan said, but remains a problem from California to Virginia.
On Tuesday, the woman left outside the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus could barely walk and seemed unable to speak.
Still filming, Baraka turned and followed the guards back to an entrance.
“That is not OK,” he shouted.
“Due to the circumstances of what it was,” one of them said.
“Then you all need to call the police,” replied Baraka, a licensed counselor.
At the doorway, Baraka asked for a supervisor, demanding to know why they were leaving her outside.
“She was . . . medically discharged,” one of the guards said, before the camera captured them walking into the hospital, their backs turned.
What Baraka filmed next – the woman, staggering and screaming into a night so cold that the sidewalk remained speckled with salt and bits of unmelted snow – has been viewed more than 1.4 million times on Facebook, triggering a cascade of online fury and an apology from the hospital.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, the hospital’s chief pledged to investigate what he described as “a failure of basic compassion and empathy.” He said it represented a wrenching departure for a widely respected medical institution – one that has embarked on a major expansion in Prince George’s County and southern Maryland.
“We firmly believe what occurred Tuesday night does not reflect who we are,” said Mohan Suntha, the hospital’s president and chief executive. “We are trying to understand the points of failure that led to what we witnessed on that video.”
Suntha would not provide details on the personnel involved, saying the review of the woman’s experience from arrival to discharge had just begun. Nor would he speak to her condition or treatment because of patient confidentiality, but he asserted that her care before being led…