Settlement Reached in COVID Case at California State Hospital

New infections plummet after state prioritized vaccination of patients during litigation
Press Release

Settlement Reached in COVID Case at California State Hospital

A doctor giving a elderly patient a vaccine shot in a hospital.
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(Los Angeles, CA) Following months of litigation, Aldo Hernandez, Charles Gluck, and Graham Waldrop reached a settlement with the Department of State Hospitals in a landmark case about COVID-19 risk to medically vulnerable patients in one of the largest psychiatric facilities in the nation. Attorneys from Disability Rights California (“DRC”) and Covington & Burling represented Plaintiffs in this action. The lawsuit resulted in prioritized access to COVID-19 vaccines for the more than 6000 residents throughout the State Hospital system – one of the first cases in the country to produce such an outcome.

As part of the settlement, DSH will continue to offer vaccinations to patients who have not yet received them and provide public information about the vaccination process. Additionally, DSH will provide a statewide healing quilt and a “dinner event” for all patients at DSH-Patton, in recognition of the bereavement and trauma suffered by patients at the hospital during the pandemic.

“The decision to start vaccinating state hospital patients early was momentous and absolutely saved lives,” says DRC attorney Anne Hadreas. “But DSH-Patton is still a crowded, congregate environment and remains a danger zone for future infectious diseases, so it will be important for the state to continue to protect vulnerable patients.”

Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court in August 2020, in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak in which more than 100 patients and more than 140 staff members and personnel had already tested positive for COVID-19.  The lawsuit alleged that the crowded, congregate nature of Patton State Hospital’s facilities and state hospital policies put vulnerable patients at risk of serious illness or death from the COVID-19 virus.

In December of 2020, another COVID-19 outbreak endangered the lives of hundreds of additional Patton State Hospital patients, including every plaintiff in the lawsuit. In response, Plaintiffs filed multiple emergency motions in order to force the Department of State Hospitals to make immediate changes to protect the safety and well-being of all high-risk patients at Patton.

After a court hearing on Plaintiffs’ emergency motions for relief, DSH agreed to offer vaccines to all patients—not just at Patton State Hospital but at all five state hospital facilities—and to continue to offer them to all new patients and those who previously refused. After 19 patient deaths and 588 patient positives at Patton State Hospital, the numbers have finally dropped at Patton and throughout the state hospital system.

Although the litigation has ended, there is more work to do to safeguard the rights of patients in state hospitals. During the litigation, DSH admitted that 272 patients with high risk medical conditions in Patton had been recommended for release but continued to wait in the highly restrictive setting.

“The state must ensure that all patients who can safely receive treatment in the community, do so,” said Samantha Choe, Special Counsel at Covington & Burling.

A copy of the settlement agreement and information about the case are available at:

Media Contacts

Melody Pomraning
Disability Rights California
(916) 504-5938



Disability Rights California (DRC) is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit:

Covington & Burling is a global law firm with offices in Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Washington.  Since its founding in 1919, Covington has demonstrated a strong commitment to public service and has a long history of serving vulnerable clients and important causes throughout the U.S. and the world.  The firm is frequently recognized for pro bono service, including ten times being ranked the number one pro bono practice in the U.S. by The American Lawyer.