Health Team

Family of patient found at a cold bus stop demands justice

Posted January 18, 2018 11:48 p.m. EST

— A young patient, dressed only in a thin, hospital gown and tube socks, was left standing outside by a bus stop earlier this month after being discharged from a Baltimore hospital, as seen in a viral video.

A passerby recorded the incident and posted the video online, which sparked widespread outrage.

In the video, the distressed woman appears dazed and cries out in anguish, as her breath can be seen in the cold air. The weather was in the 30s that night. Her hospital gown flaps in the wind exposing her bare skin. Her family's lawyer said it was patient dumping.

The patient -- identified only as Rebecca -- suffers from mental illness and needed help that night, said her mother, Cheryl Chandler.

"Rebecca is not homeless, uninsured, on drugs, or an unloved young woman with no family that cares for her," Chandler said Thursday.

She spoke to HLN's Michaela Pereira holding a photo of her 22-year-old daughter. When she saw the viral video, "it crushed me. No one wants to see their child in that way," Chandler said.

Patient's family: We want justice

The video shows the young patient standing outside, as four people in uniforms, possibly security guards, leave with an empty wheelchair and walk back inside the University of Maryland Medical Center's midtown campus.

"My daughter did not choose to be the face of mental illness," Chandler said in a press conference Thursday. "She didn't choose to be an example of the impact of a failed mental health care system. She was an individual in need of services."

The medical center's CEO, Dr. Mohan Suntha apologized to the patient and her family last week, and said the incident was a "breakdown of basic human compassion."

"We feel firmly that we provided adequate medical care to a patient who came to us in need. But where we absolutely failed, and where we own that failure, is in the demonstration of basic humanity and compassion as the patient was being discharged from our organization after receiving that care," he said.

Apologies aren't enough and the family seeks justice, said the patient's attorney, J. Wendell Gordon.

"Everybody is sorry, but nobody wants to pay. And that's what we're coming up against. Rebecca has been severely harmed as a result of being out there in the cold. They exacerbated her pre-existing psychiatric emergency ... they failed to screen and treat her. Instead, they opted to dump her at a bus shelter, half naked."

'Disgusted by the lack of empathy'

Imamu Baraka, a psychotherapist in the Baltimore area, saw her and recorded the incident in a video. In it, he calls out to the people walking away from the recently discharged patient.

"Wait, so you all are just going to leave this lady out here with no clothes on? That is not OK," he says.

One of the men, who is walking back into the hospital, replies it was "due to the circumstances of what happened."

Baraka tries to speak to the woman and then later said he called an ambulance to come pick her up. She was taken back to the hospital, he told HLN.

"You had a human being that was left to fend for themselves in this condition. Unacceptable," he told HLN last week. "Clearly she was in the hospital for a reason. And what I'm clear about is that there was a human being who needed help in that moment."

"You can't expect those with mental health issues to be pleasant. Because they're ill. I am disgusted by the lack of empathy that I am seeing displayed."

The incident happened on January 9, according to CNN affiliate WJZ.

When asked how her daughter ended up at the hospital that night, Chandler said, "Rebecca knew that she needed medical attention and she went to the hospital to seek it."

Gordon said Rebecca is doing "much better than she was on the evening when she was recovered. But she is by no means, out of the woods. We expect an extended hospital stay."