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Judge Blocks Closure of Camarillo State Hospital

May 15, 1997|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Parents battling to spare Camarillo State Hospital from closure won a partial victory Wednesday when a Superior Court judge ordered the institution to stay open until state officials can ensure that a handful of remaining patients will not be harmed when the facility shuts down.

In issuing a preliminary injunction, Judge Diane Wayne said that it was not her intent to keep the mental hospital open, but to see that certain clients receive the same or comparable treatment when they are transferred to other facilities.

The order is expected only to apply to four patients and should have little practical effect on the hospital's closure, scheduled for June 30.

Nevertheless, Wayne said she had been swayed by arguments that those patients could suffer irreparable harm if moved without assurances that their treatment programs would continue without interruption when they reach other facilities.

"I'm not trying to keep the hospital open forever, but if it cost the state some money to save some lives, so be it," Wayne told attorneys at a morning court hearing. "I'm not going to let the hospital close until I know everyone is safe."

With Wayne making no move to block the hospital's inevitable closure, however, California State University officials said they may soon be able to restart work on converting the mental hospital into Ventura County's first public university.

Those plans were put on hold because of the lawsuit. But Handel Evans, president of the developing Cal State Channel Islands campus, said Wednesday that he is hopeful that work can start again soon.

"What it means, I think, is that we can talk with more confidence that the hospital is going to be available," Evans said.

"I understand that the hospital is not closing until the court is convinced the state can provide an adequate level of care, but I'm assuming the state will do that," he said. "But the important thing in the ruling today are the judge's comments that it would not be appropriate to stop the closure of the hospital all together."

State officials said Wednesday that they already have addressed many of the concerns raised by Wayne in her order, and they believe that they can fully comply within weeks.

"It may involve some things we've already done where we just need to submit some documentation," said Michael Mount, the chief counsel for the state Department of Developmental Services.

"But if we're only talking about a limited number of people, we can still proceed with the bulk of the transfers," Mount said. "The significance [of the order} may be very small to us."

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