Federal Appeals Court Upholds Injunction Against Closure of Los Angeles County Rehabilitation Center
A three-judge panel of U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday unanimously upheld an injunction that blocks a plan by Los Angeles County to close the 207-bed Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey until the county can prove that disabled Medi-Cal beneficiaries can obtain comparable care at a different facility, the Los Angeles Times reports. The case involves a lawsuit filed last year by a coalition of patient advocacy groups. According to the lawsuit, the closure of Rancho Los Amigos would deny necessary care to disabled Medi-Cal beneficiaries in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (Fox, Los Angeles Times, 2/6). Last May, U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued an injunction that blocked the closure of Rancho Los Amigos. The county planned to close Rancho Los Amigos to address financial problems in the county Department of Health Services, which treats about 600,000 uninsured patients per year and faces a budget deficit of $265.1 million by fiscal year 2006-2007 (California Healthline, 12/2/03). County officials estimated that the closure of Rancho Los Amigos would save the health care system at least $58 million per year.
The three-judge panel ruled that the county had overstated financial problems faced by the health services department, which expects a budget surplus until 2006. Judge Harry Pregerson added, "The county is free to reorganize its health care system to increase efficiency and reduce costs, so long as it does so in an evenhanded, nondiscriminatory manner." Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, director of the health services department, said, "We still predict a significant budget deficit, and now our hands are pretty well tied in terms of what we can do to reduce it" and "provide the maximum services to the poor." He said that the county may consider proposals to downsize Rancho Los Amigos or find an outside group to take over the hospital. According to attorneys involved in the lawsuit, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago has expressed interest in acquiring Rancho Los Amigos (Los Angeles Times, 2/6).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.