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Strained to the Limit : Sprawling, makeshift and crowded with poor patients, Mid-Valley Hospital fills the gap between the quake and the new Olive View.

OLIVE VIEW, Out of the Rubble: Second of three parts.

March 17, 1986|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | Times Staff Writer

For 15 years, the only place where thousands of San Fernando Valley poor people could get medical care close to home has been a collection of aging buildings and trailers sandwiched between a bowling alley and an auto body repair shop on Van Nuys Boulevard.

Mid-Valley Hospital in Van Nuys is strained to its limit.

The services are so inadequate and the number of patients seeking care is so large that more than half of the Valley residents who need to be admitted to a county hospital are forced to travel to distant County-USC Medical Center in East Los Angeles.

All this stands to change dramatically with next month's reopening of Olive Medical Center in Sylmar. When Olive View becomes fully operational, the Valley will have its own full-fledged public hospital, just like five other densely populated areas of Los Angeles County, including the east, south central and west sides of the city.

Patients who now must wait up to 10 hours in cramped clinics at Mid-Valley will have shorter waits in much nicer surroundings at Olive View.

Wheeled Across Lot

Emergency-room patients wheeled in gurneys across a parking lot--rain or shine--to reach the Mid-Valley intensive care unit will have a short elevator trip from Olive View's emergency room to its ICU.

Mental health patients, who frequently wander out of the psychiatric emergency ward into a Mid-Valley waiting room, will be placed on a separate, locked ward in Olive View.

In short, the $120-million Olive View Medical Center is "going to be like a real hospital," said Dr. Stanley Korenman, an associate dean of the UCLA School of Medicine, for which Olive View will be a teaching hospital.

What's more, county officials say, Valley taxpayers will start receiving a fairer share of county health funding.

Doctors and administrators at Olive View say the state-of-the-art equipment and laboratories at the new facility will enable specialty physicians to conduct research which, in turn, benefits the community.

Every Room Has View

Every patient's room in the impressive glass building has a view either of the San Gabriel Mountains or the sprawling San Fernando Valley below. The 506,690-square-foot facility is nearly five times the size of Mid-Valley, which was bought by the county after the 1971 earthquake as a temporary replacement for Olive View.

Although Mid-Valley services are spread out in three deteriorating buildings and an assortment of trailers, Olive View is one modern, self-contained building.

What's more, it will provide a number of services that now do not exist in the Valley, notably a county-operated maternity ward and a psychiatric ward for indigent children.

If Olive View can hold its own through threatened budget cuts in public health care, officials plan to phase in all services at the hospital by 1988.

But even at its worst, Olive View administrator Douglas Bagley said, the new facility will offer the same basic services provided at Mid-Valley, but much more efficiently and with greater comfort for patients.

Olive View will operate like the five other county hospitals--County-USC, UCLA-Harbor General Medical Center, Martin Luther King Jr. General, Rancho Los Amigos and High Desert--in its mission to serve the poor.

7% Can't Afford to Pay

County health officials estimate that about 115,000 people, or more than 7% of the Valley area's 1.5-million population, need public health services because they cannot afford a private hospital.

Of the Valley residents who checked into a county hospital in 1982-83, 4,893, or 57.8%, went to County-USC because of the inadequacies at Mid-Valley, according to the county Department of Health Services.

A citizens' committee that recommended the rebuilding of Olive View to the county Board of Supervisors in 1981 said: "Retaining Mid-Valley as a county hospital was viable for only a very short time because of gross inadequacies in the physical plant and the lack of any space in which to carry out modernization."

The committee also said that requiring the Valley poor to travel to County-USC "would deprive Valley patients of adequate access to care."

Bagley said the "entire question" of whether to rebuild Olive View was one of accessibility of health care for the poor.

"If accessibility is of no concern," Bagley said, "then we would build a central facility in the middle of the county and say: 'Get there as best you can.' "

Other Uses Studied

But what was intended to be a temporary facility at Mid-Valley became a fixture during the long years of often turbulent political maneuvering that led to the final decision in 1983 by the supervisors to rebuild Olive View. Although Mid-Valley will close as a hospital when Olive View opens, other potential uses are being studied.

"This place was never designed to function as a county hospital," Bagley said of Mid-Valley. "The physical space arrangement forced the hospital to adapt procedures to the limitation of space arrangements."

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