INGLEWOOD — Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital may temporarily close its neonatal intensive care unit, which treats infants with life-threatening problems, because of an anticipated drop in patients covered by the state Medi-Cal program, according to a spokesman.
Freeman lost its right to treat Medi-Cal patients when the state designated five hospitals as exclusive Medi-Cal providers for northern portions of the South Bay area. Before the selection, any hospital in the area could treat Medi-Cal patients and receive cost reimbursements from the state.
Jeffrey H. Merkow, public relations director at Freeman, said about 39% of the intensive care unit patients have been Medi-Cal recipients and the unit may not be able to sustain the expected loss. The state covered 70% of the hospital costs incurred by Medi-Cal patients. The unit, operated at an annual cost of $1 million, served 200 babies during 1984, Merkow said.
"We are attempting to find ways to attract non-Medi-Cal patients so we can keep the nursery open, because we think it is a service that is needed by the community," he said.
Merkow said that if the neonatal intensive care services are suspended, they would be open again as early as the fall. The hospital plans an "aggressive marketing campaign" aimed at private pay patients and prepaid health care plans, he said.
Meanwhile, nearby Centinela Hospital Medical Center, also in Inglewood, is not anticipating problems, has no plans to close its neonatal ICU and welcomes the change as an opportunity to step up its private pay business, according to marketing director Willis L. Webb.
"The hospital administration has been wanting to get away from Medi-Cal and to move toward private pay patients," he said, adding that Centinela has plans to market maternity services and is negotiating with medical plans and physician groups.
Webb said a significant Medi-Cal patient load for maternity services, including neonatal intensive care, has resulted in a bed shortage at Centinela. "Now we have room and can go ahead and be strong in marketing," he said.
The state Medical Assistance Commission in December and January designated five Medi-Cal facilities to serve Inglewood, El Segundo, Westchester, Hawthorne, Lawndale and Gardena. They are Inglewood Women's Hospital, Maxicare Medical Center in Culver City, Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center in Hawthorne, Memorial Hospital of Hawthorne and Memorial Hospital of Gardena. Maxicare has a neonatal intensive care unit.
'Best for All'
James Foley, the commission's Medi-Cal negotiator, said Medi-Cal patients who might have utilized neonatal intensive care at Freeman and Centinela may now go to Maxicare, UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in Willowbrook or Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance. (Merkow said physicians at Freeman prefer to send their patients to Childrens Hospital in Hollywood, which accepts Medi-Cal.)
Freeman and Centinela hospitals sought Medi-Cal designations but were unable to negotiate contracts with the state. Merkow said the hospitals chosen are less comprehensive than Freeman and were able to offer lower daily rates. Webb said Centinela has no quarrel with the outcome and regards the commission's decision as "best for all hospitals affected."
Foley said Medi-Cal contracts specify a per-day hospital charge regardless of the medical procedure or service. Physician costs are billed separately. Medi-Cal hospitals are designated to ensure that care is available for people lacking insurance or the ability to pay for services, according to the state Department of Health Services.