The ordinance was approved 12-1, with Councilman Tom LaBonge casting the dissenting vote. He said he could not support a health care-related ordinance that is opposed by the county of Los Angeles, which oversees the area's public hospitals.
Because the ordinance was not unanimously approved, it will be back before the council next week for a second reading.
The ordinance is intended to end the practice of leaving vulnerable patients on Skid Row, but is opposed by the Hospital Association of Southern California, which says the proposed law would place undue burden on hospitals.
"HASC does not support legislation that creates harsh penalties for hospitals but ignores all other agencies that must be held accountable under this type of legislation. Nor can HASC support legislation that fails to address the issue of where homeless patients should be discharged after they no longer need acute hospital care," HASC public affairs director Jennifer Bayer wrote in a letter to the council.
Hospitals in the Los Angeles area care for more than 18,000 homeless patients a year. On average, those patients remain in the hospital nine days longer than is necessary because there is nowhere else for them to go, Bayer said.
Jim Lott, executive vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California, said the ordinance could jeopardize the federal funding that hospitals receive. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, hospitals that have a misdemeanor conviction could lose their funding.
However, Jeffrey Isaacs, chief of the criminal branch in the City Attorney's Office, said municipal ordinances are not included in the list of violations that could cut off funding.
Two high-profile cases of patient dumping prompted City Councilwoman Jan Perry and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to draft the ordinance.
In 2006, Carol Ann Reyes, wearing a hospital gown and slippers, was left on San Pedro Street. Last year, Gabino Olvera, a homeless paraplegic, was left on Skid Row in a soiled medical gown -- his possessions in a bag clenched between his teeth.
"Homeless people come to us from throughout Los Angeles County. Many are sent to our city without the power to say no," Perry said.
"We already know that the way to stop the revolving door for people in and out of jails and hospitals is permanent supportive housing, and while I am doing great numbers in my own council district, we know that housing is not being built nearly everywhere else in Los Angeles County," she said.
The City Attorney's Office has investigated 60 cases of patient dumping, Isaacs said.
Civil cases were filed in three of those incidents. A case with Kaiser Permanente was settled; lawsuits against Hollywood Presbyterian and Methodist Hospital of Arcadia are pending; and other cases remain under investigation, Isaacs said.
A state bill addressing the same issue was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger two years ago. SB 275 would have barred hospitals and their staff from transporting a patient to a location other than that person's residence.