Federal Appeals Court Prohibits Los Angeles County From Eliminating Hospital Beds, Care for People With Disabilities
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously upheld a lower court ruling prohibiting Los Angeles County from eliminating 100 hospital beds and other services for people with disabilities at County-USC Medical Center, and the court upheld its own ruling to maintain an injunction preventing the closure of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports. The county had planned to eliminate 100 beds at County-USC and to close Rancho Los Amigos, a 207-bed long-term care facility, to save $58.6 million per year. The move would reduce the county budget shortfall to an estimated $265.1 million by fiscal year 2006-2007 (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 4/28). The county's plans were blocked last year when a coalition of patient advocacy groups filed a lawsuit alleging that the closure of Rancho Los Amigos would deny necessary care to disabled Medi-Cal beneficiaries in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Last May, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued an injunction that blocked the closure of Rancho Los Amigos until the lawsuit was resolved, and in February, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the injunction until the county could prove that disabled Medi-Cal beneficiaries could obtain comparable care at a different facility (California Healthline, 2/6). In their ruling Tuesday, judges said the county's plan to eliminate hospital beds "presents that proverbial accident waiting to happen." Currently, the county provides funding for only 750 beds at County-USC although the facility has a permit for 1,450 beds, according to court filings (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 4/28).
A trial has been scheduled for November to determine whether a permanent injunction against closure of Rancho Los Amigos should be issued. However, both county officials and patient advocates say they hope to reach a settlement before that date. "[I]t's disappointing that the court hasn't recognized the county's need to live within our budget constraints," Los Angeles County Department of Health Services spokesperson John Wallace said. However, he added, "The advocates ultimately have the same goal that we do: ensuring there's a viable safety net in the county." Representatives from both sides said that "any plan to save the county's health care system" would require assistance from the state and federal governments, the Los Angeles Times reports (Richardson, Los Angeles Times, 4/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.