A month after the merger of the Conejo Valley's only two hospitals won approval, officials at Los Robles Regional Medical Center are considering scenarios that would shut down Westlake Medical Center or convert it to a rehabilitation facility.
Officials of Columbia/HCA, which owns Los Robles and received permission from federal regulators to acquire its Westlake Village rival, are expected to discuss plans for the hospital at a corporate meeting Aug. 23 in Dallas, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The options range from leaving the smaller hospital, Westlake Medical Center, largely intact to shutting it down. A recurring suggestion calls for creating a rehabilitation center for patients recovering and relearning basic skills after accidents, strokes or heart surgery.
"They are equal possibilities," Los Robles spokeswoman Kris Carraway said. "We just don't know yet. We're still evaluating."
Even if the 55-bed Westlake hospital closes, an emergency room would remain open in the area to treat less serious injuries, Carraway said.
Patients with more serious injuries or problems would be stabilized and transferred to Los Robles seven miles north in Thousand Oaks, she said. About 1,200 people are treated at Westlake's emergency room each month.
"For the moment we're going to leave it as it is," Carraway said of the emergency room. But, she said, if corporate leaders decided to close the hospital, "we would find some other building to keep the ER open. We feel the area is best served by an ER because of the distance to Los Robles."
It is not yet clear how many of Westlake's 275 to 300 staff members would be laid off or transferred to Los Robles, which would have to add to its staff of 700 to accept the Westlake patients, Carraway said.
"We're looking at what staffing it would take and what staff members would be transferring over," she said. "We don't want to have layoffs, so we want to try to keep as many of the personnel as we possibly can."
One department that appears certain to be affected is the obstetrics ward at Westlake, which is set to move to Los Robles by the end of the year.
About 25 area obstetricians met with hospital officials Monday to discuss details of the transfer of obstetrics to Los Robles. Hospital administrators were not available for comment on the meeting.
Westlake now delivers 50 babies on average each month, and that figure is dropping, Carraway said. On average, 130 babies are born at Los Robles each month, she said.
"Westlake deliveries have gone down since the word is out that it's moving, and our deliveries have gone up," Carraway said of Los Robles. "But the quality of care at Westlake is still excellent. The same nurses are still there who have been there for many, many years."
Plans to absorb Westlake into the Los Robles system were first made public last year, when hospital giant Columbia/HCA announced its intentions to buy the Westlake center.
Columbia/HCA won permission from the Federal Trade Commission last month to go forward with the merger over the objections of some local physicians who feared the merger would create a hospital monopoly in the Conejo Valley.
Because the Westlake hospital is just across the Los Angeles County line, Los Robles argued in its application to the FTC that there were many other competing facilities in L.A. County.
Critics of the deal complained that the application was misleading because it did not mention that Los Robles and Westlake are the only two hospitals in the Conejo Valley.
For their part, Los Robles officials said the merger of the two hospitals would make health care more efficient and less costly. In addition, hospital officials said, patients have the choice of going to other nearby hospitals, pointing to Simi Valley Hospital 20 miles north and St. Johns Pleasant Valley Hospital 15 miles northwest in Camarillo.