LONG BEACH: County Health Services Debates Closing Hospital
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services warns that emergency medical response from San Pedro to Seal Beach will be "negatively impacted" if Long Beach Community Medical Center closes as scheduled on Oct. 2, the Los Angeles Times reports. While the Department of Health's warning lacks the power to stop the closure, it buttresses the argument of many doctors, residents and union leaders that the medical center should stay open. Mark Finucane, county health services director, was among those who agreed, saying, "The closure does not serve the public's best interests." According to a 157-page report prepared by the Emergency Medical Services agency, if CMC closes, the harbor area will be forced to deal with slower emergency responses by paramedics, longer travel times to hospitals and more 911 calls from residents of east Long Beach who will no longer have access to a nearby emergency room. CMC's not-for-profit owner, San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, claims that the closing must proceed due to five years of heavy financial losses. Testifying at a public hearing last month, CHW COO Jerry Kozai disagreed with concerns over medical delays, saying, "We believe that the closure will not have a significant impact on the availability and accessibility of emergency medical services." Kozai claimed that while CMC treated 25,046 patients last year, including 3,493 brought in after 911 calls, half of those patients did not require urgent care. As for the rest, Kozai said, they could be absorbed by other nearby hospitals, such as Long Beach Memorial Hospital and CHW-owned St. Mary Medical Center. But the EMS report points out that emergency rooms at those hospitals are full about 20% of the time, and already divert patients to other medical centers. In response to this, the county health department called for the Board of Supervisors to sign a "legally binding agreement" with CHW, committing the group to filling CMC's lost capacity at the St. Mary emergency room. The EMS report, while acknowledging the CMC's financial problems, is still asking CHW to find other options to closure, even a sale. CHW is willing to keep CMC's license alive until a new buyer takes over, although plans to close the hospital are still in effect. A "transition team" of CHW executives and Long Beach officials met Wednesday to explore ways to keep CMC open. One proposal would require CHW to operate CMC through Dec. 31, another would let the city take temporary control of the facility during the search for a buyer. CHW executives indicated on Tuesday that they had not completed review of the EMS report, and reserved comment until an Aug. 8 hearing at the Board of Supervisors (Mathews, 8/2).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.