DUARTE — Santa Teresita Hospital officials say they will close their emergency room March 1 unless the county approves a request to add 23 beds to the hospital's nursing home.
Additional revenue from the beds would help subsidize the financially ailing emergency facility, which serves 1,000 patients a month from eight cities, hospital officials said.
The beds are not being used in the hospital because of a lack of staffing. If the beds are approved for use in the 133-bed nursing home, hospital officials expect to make an additional $800,000 annually.
But the county Health Services Department has yet to approve the request filed in August, said Mike Costello, Santa Teresita's executive vice president.
He said the hospital must have its license reviewed by the county because it would be changing the use of the beds.
"The whole process is very frustrating," said Costello. "It seems difficult to get a consensus from all involved to make what should be a simple decision."
Robert Carp, program manager of acute ancillary services for the health department, acknowledged that it is unusual for such an application to take so long, but "we're trying to facilitate it." He said he did not know the reason for the delay.
The Los Angeles Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development will also have to approve conversion of the beds.
Costello said that because the nursing home has less-intensive staff requirements, the added beds would not present a problem. The nursing home is next to the hospital.
Santa Teresita's board began considering shutting down its emergency services two years ago because of spiraling expenses, he said. The 283-bed hospital, whose 1988 budget was more than $24 million, lost $400,000 in emergency room operating costs in 1987. Losses climbed to $600,000 last year.
"We've considered barring Medi-Cal, but we believe someone has to take care of those (low-income) patients," he said.
Santa Teresita accepts patients from Duarte, Monrovia, Arcadia, El Monte, Azusa, Glendora, Irwindale and Bradbury.
Monrovia Fire Chief Mark Foote, whose paramedic units deliver about 15 patients to Santa Teresita's emergency room each week, has mounted a campaign to persuade the hospital not to close the facility.
"I've been kicking and screaming about it," he said. During the last four months, he said, he has telephoned and written to health officials, community leaders and city managers in neighboring cities "to sensitize people to this disaster."
He said his paramedic squad already has been taking more emergency room patients to Santa Teresita since Methodist Hospital in Arcadia closed its trauma center Jan. 1.
"Now we just look for an emergency room (at either hospital) to admit them," he said.
Santa Teresita has never operated a trauma center.
Foote said he is worried that without Santa Teresita's emergency facility, Methodist Hospital might close its emergency room doors more often because of the additional patients it might have to absorb.
"Then we'll have to shop around for an emergency room," Foote said. "I don't want to degenerate to that. You'll have this high-tech, highly skilled squad running around playing taxicab."
Other alternatives for emergency care are Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Glendora Community Hospital, Foothill Presbyterian Hospital in Glendora and Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina.
Dr. Russell Maatz, director of emergency medical services at Methodist, estimated that the hospital's average emergency room load of 100 patients daily would increase by about 10% if Santa Teresita closes its facility.
Emergency rooms at Methodist and Santa Teresita have been periodically closed when intensive-care beds were filled. But Costello stressed that this time it might be permanent.
"We're continuing to be hopeful," he said.