County officials are considering construction of a 350-bed hospital and trauma center in the San Gabriel Valley as part of a master plan to offer improved medical services now provided at County-USC Medical Center near downtown Los Angeles.
Carl Williams, county director of hospitals, said the master plan is still being developed, funding of new construction is uncertain and a recommendation will not be submitted to county supervisors until this fall.
Officials are studying the possibility of reducing the number of beds at County-USC Medical Center by 550 and building a medical facility that would also serve as a teaching hospital in the San Gabriel Valley. Williams said preliminary findings indicate that the historic, 19-story General Hospital, built in 1928--one of four hospital buildings in the USC medical complex--"has outlived its useful life" and should be replaced.
Williams said the structure is sound, but the plumbing, heating and electrical systems need such extensive repair that it would be more practical to rebuild than remodel. "It's too bad to fix up and too costly to tear down," said Williams.
He said the building would not be torn down even if it no longer operates as a hospital, although it is not clear what use it might have.
One key finding in the master plan study is that the county medical center could operate more efficiently with 900 beds instead of its present 1,450.
If bed capacity is reduced through reconstruction and remodeling, Williams said, the county would need to build facilities elsewhere to serve its current patient load.
More Trauma Care
The logical location for a new hospital would be the San Gabriel Valley, Williams said, because the county does not have a hospital there and many of the medically indigent patients served at the medical center live there.
The San Gabriel Valley needs more trauma care facilities, he said, and those services could be provided there as well.
The county's 5-year-old trauma care system, which once included hospitals in Pomona, West Covina and Arcadia, now has only a single hospital member in the San Gabriel Valley, Huntington Memorial in Pasadena.
Trauma centers have surgeons and anesthesiologists on duty 24 hours, while hospital emergency rooms provide surgical services on call.
Williams said planners envision the San Gabriel Valley facility as a large teaching hospital.
Supervisor Pete Schabarum said the need for the new hospital is indisputable. He said many residents who must travel to County-USC Medical Center for care have long called for development of a facility closer to their homes.
In addition, he said, emergency medical service is deteriorating in the San Gabriel Valley. Not only have a number of trauma centers closed, he said, but the availability of hospital emergency rooms is also declining.
"This situation puts every person living in the area at serious risk," he said.
Williams said Medical Planning Associates of Malibu, which is developing the master plan for County-USC Medical Center, looked at a variety of options, from doing nothing to developing an 1,800-bed medical center on the County-USC property.
The option that has gained the most support among county officials would reduce the number of beds at County-USC Medical Center to 900 in either new or remodeled buildings, construct a 350-bed hospital in the San Gabriel Valley and add 200 beds elsewhere in the county hospital system, Williams said.
The county has not yet begun to look at possible hospital sites. Williams said the next step is determining where the patient caseload is located. Then, he said, the county will begin looking at sites on the basis of accessibility.
Possible Addition to Health Center
One possibility, he said, would be to build the hospital as an addition to El Monte Comprehensive Health Center, an outpatient facility in El Monte. But, he said, he does not know how well that site would accommodate a hospital, or whether the location is easily accessible to patients.
Williams said the county does not yet have solid cost estimates for the proposed projects, but rough estimates place the cost of a 350-bed hospital at $110 million and the proposed improvements at County-USC Medical Center at $365 million.