Northridge Hospital Closes ED Monday
Northridge Hospital Medical Center-Sherman Way on Monday closed its emergency department two months ahead of schedule because hospital officials could not meet state requirements that facilities with EDs have on call physicians with certain skills, the Los Angeles Times reports. The 209-bed facility was the busiest of the six Los Angeles County EDs with plans to close this year, serving about 29,000 patients annually.
Hospital officials decided on Friday to close the ED this week instead of waiting until the end of the year, and by Saturday, the department was closed to ambulances.
Tracey Veal, a hospital vice president, said the decision was "very difficult," but officials had "little choice" because they could not find on-call general surgeons and other specialists, such as obstetricians and gynecologists, the Times reports. "Just like hospitals, physicians don't get reimbursed for ... charity care," Veal said, adding that physicians could treat higher volumes of insured patients working normal business hours than they could working in the hospital EDs.
ED Director Frank Fower said the high cost of medical malpractice insurance also deterred surgeons from working in EDs. In addition to recruitment problems, Northridge Hospital has been struggling to pay for costs related to state nurse-to-patient ratio rules implemented in January and seismic retrofitting regulations. The hospital also has lost about $1.5 million per month, or about $13 million annually, on charity care.
Carol Meyer, who heads the county's emergency services, said that with the Northridge Hospital ED's closure, most patients will be diverted to Valley Presbyterian Hospital, located about a mile and a half away (Chong, Los Angeles Times, 10/4).
Valley Presbyterian officials said they are ready to serve the influx of patients, partly because the hospital had been cooperating with Northridge Hospital to prepare for its anticipated closure later this year. Valley Presbyterian, which had one physician staffing its ED at all times, will now have two ED physicians on staff around the clock. The hospital also plans to employ nurses laid off from Northridge Hospital's ED.
Other facilities that will absorb Northridge Hospital ED's patient load include Mission Community Hospital, Pacifica Hospital of the Valley and Providence Holy Cross Medical Center (Dobuzinskis, Los Angeles Daily News, 10/3).
In related news, San Jose Council member Cindy Chavez announced proposals to maintain health care services downtown when San Jose Medical Center closes, including a plan to force owner HCA Healthcare to sell the site to the city, which would open a medical facility there (Kaplan, San Jose Mercury News, 10/3). HCA announced that it would close the hospital by Dec. 9, partly because of higher costs resulting from lower Medicare and Medi-Cal reimbursements, new state seismic retrofit laws and new state nurse-to-patient ratio requirements (California Healthline, 9/29).
Other options Chavez mentioned include using the council's zoning power to mandate that the 11-acre plot remain dedicated to public use; creating a not-for-profit medical foundation to support medical services at the site; forming a localized health care district that would be financed through local taxes; using the council's leverage over HCA's plans to expand another facility in the area -- Regional Medical Center -- to ensure the company helps the community make best use of the old facility; and exercising the council's power of eminent domain to seize the property from HCA for less than what the company might receive on the open market from a developer.
"The easy way would be for us to partner with HCA" to devise a plan to provide medical services at the site, Chavez said. However, she said, "[T]his company treated this community so disrespectfully that I have no confidence at all in HCA's desire to work with us or deal with us in an honest, forthcoming way" (San Jose Mercury News, 10/3).