The man who recorded a video of a woman discharged from a hospital in a gown on a cold winter night says he is appalled at the hospital’s treatment of her. Psychotherapist Imamu Baraka was walking home from his Baltimore practice on January 9th when he came across a woman being discharged from the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Midtown Campus in only a gown and socks. In his statement to the Associated Press, he said, “I saw the unthinkable: another human in a wheelchair being wheeled out in the dead of cold.”
The video, recorded on his cell phone because he thought no one would believe him otherwise, shows a young woman stumbling away from the hospital as people in uniform bring a wheelchair back into the hospital. The woman appears to be disoriented and unable to form words, and her breath is clearly condensing in front of her (the temperature that night was in the low 30’s). Baraka can be heard asking the guards, “Wait, so you’re just going to leave this lady out here with no clothes on?”
“At first I was shocked,” Baraka later told the Associated Press. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And I move beyond that to the next level from being shocked. I became … irritated and fearful for the young lady. And then I became angry.” Despite repeatedly questioning the guards about why they were dumping the young woman outside, Baraka did not get an answer. When he was able to get an ambulance, the crew told him that they were taking her back to the hospital that she had been discharged from. According to Baraka, she was discharged again later that evening, but this time, she was put in a taxi and sent to a homeless shelter.
After Baraka’s video went viral, hospital president and CEO Dr. Mohan Suntha made a statement about the incident at a press conference. “We believe firmly that we provided appropriate medical care to a patient who came to us in need,” he said, “but where we absolutely failed … is in the demonstration of basic humanity and compassion as a patient was being discharged from our organization after having received that care.” Suntha went on to say that the situation was an “isolated” case that “is not representative of our patient-centered mission,” and that there would be an internal investigation into the incident.
Since then, Baraka has been in contact with the 22-year-old woman’s mother. The mother, known only as Cheryl was able to find her daughter because of the video. She had apparently been missing for two weeks before the incident. Baraka said that the young woman, who has a history of mental illness including psycho-affective disorder, is “doing a lot better” since she was reunited with family. But Cheryl is furious at the conditions that her daughter was exposed to. “My daughter was disposed of,” she said, in an interview with CBS. “She literally was disposed of. It’s disgusting, heartbreaking, horrifying. And if it’s all of those things for me, I want people to know how does Rebecca feel? …There was no human dignity at all.”
The young woman’s situation isn’t uncommon. “Patient dumping” is a country-wide phenomenon where poor or homeless people are “dumped” on the street instead of sheltering them or bringing them to a homeless shelter. In the aftermath of this recent incident, Baltimore’s chapter of the NAACP called for an end to patient dumping. “While the hospital has apologized, the Baltimore City NAACP wants to know that upon the completion of the internal investigation that those responsible are held accountable for this inhumane incident,” the statement read. “We also are demanding that the practice of forcing patients out of the hospital or ‘patient dumping’ cease immediately.”
For Baraka, the situation is unconscionable because the hospital failed to avoid doing preventable harm. “They failed that simple test. They put her in an environment where she could have literally ended up dead because it was cold that night,” Baraka said in an interview with the New York Times. He has already spoken to Suntha about the incident, but plans to speak to him more after the press coverage “sort of calms down.” “One way or another,” Baraka said, he wants those responsible to be “held accountable.”
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