The sight of the lifeless body of Sandra Ysaguirre covered by a sheet on the sidewalk outside of a furniture store in the City of San Fernando early Saturday morning, April 3, has stirred reactions of sorrow and raised questions about her medical circumstances.
Unfortunately, little is known about her.
Ysaguirre, 69, appeared to be homeless. She was pronounced dead by paramedics called to the scene by San Fernando police. After viewing video from area businesses, police said the woman had collapsed on the sidewalk in front of the store very early that morning after throwing away trash into a receptacle.
San Fernando Police Chief Tony Vario said that — based on material in her possession — Ysaguirre had been released from Olive View-UCLA Medical Center on March 26, and last weekend was apparently sheltering on a very cold night in the setback doorway area of the store.
The lack of shelter and medical care continues to add to the homeless crisis in Los Angeles county.
Private and government-sponsored shelters have been unable to fully house the growing numbers of those who are “unhoused”. There are an estimated 66,000 persons experiencing homelessness in L.A. county. However, the county figures are from 2020; the 2021 homeless count was canceled due to concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.
Getting adequate medical attention can be an enormous problem for those with little or no money, no known address, and battling hunger, mental illnesses, and constant exposure to the elements.
“When it comes to people who are unhoused, health issues play a big role in their life expectancy,” said Mel Tillekeratne, executive director and co-founder of the The Shower of Hope, a mobile hygiene operation that provides showers for the homeless in 27 different locations in the Los Angeles and Riverside counties, and Bakersfield.
“I think hospitals have to ensure that — when they know a person is unhoused — they discharge that person appropriately so they are not sent directly on the street but sent to a recuperative facility so that they at least have a little bit of time to stabilize.”
Tillekeratne could not directly speak to Ysaguirre’s circumstances. But from his perspective, “it’s not an easy situation in any shape or form. But a person coming out of a hospital who may still need care, those are the ones we have to prioritize…and I think more than the systems in place for the homeless, the hospitals have a duty to make sure those people are taken care of until they are stable.”
Ken Craft, CEO of the Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, also could not speak directly to Ysaguirre’s circumstances. He did say that if a person is admitted to a hospital whether they have a serious injury or illness, if they cannot perform their ADLs — or “activities of daily living” — they cannot be discharged back to the streets. But if they are able to be functional and handle their ADLs, the admitting hospital, following diagnosis and treatment, would ask them where they would they like to be discharged.
“A lot of times, people who are homeless ask to be discharged ‘back to where I came from.’ At that point, they have to be discharged back into the streets,” Craft said.
The Olive View-UCLA Medical Center is a Los Angeles County-operated facility. According to the hospital policy sent to the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol in an email from the county Department of Public Health, the facility — in accordance with state law — is required to document the discharge of patients experiencing homelessness, including their post-discharge destination, as well as offering support resources such as shelters, mental health providers, and other support services prior to their discharge.
Olive View-UCLA Medical Center must also offer patients experiencing homelessness a meal prior to discharge, weather-appropriate clothing, and transportation services to a location of choice — including a shelter, temporary residence, or alternative destination, the email said.
Learning more about Ysaguirre and the specific challenges she faced after being discharged from Olive View Medical Center is proving difficult for the police department, Vario said.
“The last known address that we can find was up in Eureka, CA, and that was back in the late 1990s,” the chief said, adding the department is continuing to try and contact any next of kin.
“The coroner’s office has better resources in locating relatives; [at this point] we don’t know if she has any,” Vario said. “The coroner’s office would let us know if they had found anybody and they haven’t done that yet. If there are relatives out there, we would like to let them know. Hopefully somebody will want to know so they can give her a decent burial.
“It’s unfortunate she passed away by herself,” he said, adding “there was no evidence of foul play.”
The county Corner’s Office has not yet released a cause of death.