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SOUTH AREA : Centinela Hospital Ready for 911 Cases


Centinela Hospital Medical Center has upgraded its emergency room in a move that county officials predict could improve emergency response in South Los Angeles.

The Inglewood hospital stopped accepting most 911 ambulances four years ago when it "down-licensed" its emergency room to standby status. At the time, hospital leaders said the change was necessary to stop huge financial losses from treating indigent patients.

Now, in an unusual step, Centinela has received state approval to expand emergency services.

The hospital will be able to handle public ambulance traffic. Ambulances carrying obstetrics patients are now being routed to another hospital, Centinela President Russell S. Stromberg said. Centinela and county officials are discussing what role the 403-bed nonprofit hospital will play in the county's 911 network, he said.

"We certainly need additional emergency departments in that area," said Virginia Price-Hastings, Los Angeles County director of emergency medical services. She called the development the first time since the mid-1980s that an area hospital has "up-licensed" its emergency department.

In fact, several hospitals have downgraded their emergency rooms to standby status for financial reasons.

Public ambulances responding to 911 calls will not be routed to Centinela until the county and other area hospitals determine each other's service areas, Price-Hastings said. Ambulances now head for emergency rooms at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood and two South Bay hospitals.

Centinela's return to the network would improve emergency service in the South-Central and Inglewood areas and may help relieve pressure on the county's Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in Willowbrook, Price-Hastings said.

Centinela Hospital downgraded its 10-bed emergency room in May, 1989, blaming what hospital officials called "the magnitude and disproportionate number of indigent and government-sponsored patients seeking care through the hospital emergency room." Under an agreement with the county, the hospital continued to accept obstetrics patients transported by paramedic ambulance.

But that agreement expired last summer, and ambulances began transporting obstetrics cases to the new obstetrics unit at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood.

Centinela's Stromberg said the rerouting of obstetrics cases is why his hospital is considering taking other ambulances. The emergency room could not have handled expectant mothers and gunshot victims at the same time, he said.

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