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County Urged to Grant Reprieve to Rehab Center

Woman in a wheelchair speaks for many when she says patients will allow closure of Rancho Los Amigos 'over our dead batteries.'

November 20, 2002|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

More than 100 supporters of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center urged the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to reconsider its decision to close the hospital, but members of the board made no move to back away from their plans to shut it down.

The sometimes raucous protest was the latest in a series of actions by advocates of the 207-bed hospital, which specializes in treating catastrophic injuries and ailments, including spinal cord and head injuries, strokes, diabetes and liver problems.

Rancho supporters said they would allow the county to close Rancho, in the words of one woman in a motorized wheelchair, "over our dead batteries."

County officials are faced with a health-care deficit budget projected to reach $500 million to $750 million in three years. The Board of Supervisors decided in October that the county would save $60 million to $70 million a year by closing Rancho, which treats about 9,500 patients annually.

On Tuesday, however, a vocal cadre of patients used time allotted for public comments during the board's weekly meeting to alternately scold the supervisors for their decision and plead with them to reconsider it.

The cuts, the patients said, would come at the expense of some of Los Angeles' most vulnerable people.

They were joined by doctors, health-care workers and advocates for the disabled, including Eve Hill, executive director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights.

Hill said it would be discriminatory for the county to close Rancho after the passage of Measure B, a property tax designed to help fund the trauma care system that voters approved earlier this month. That tax does not directly benefit Rancho because it is not technically a trauma center.

"You have proposed to eliminate the piece of the trauma system that serves people with disabilities," Hill said. "[The county] must provide services to meet the health-care needs of all its citizens, not just those who are able-bodied."

Waving signs that said "Keep Rancho Open, Keep Rancho County," critics of the decision to close Rancho filled many of the seats in the hearing room, and the aisles were lined with people in wheelchairs, many waiting to speak.

The deluge of criticism sparked a defensive reaction from the supervisors, including Gloria Molina, who objected when a man said she voted to close Rancho because it was politically safe.

"We are still trying to save an entire health-care system," Molina said. "You may congratulate somebody on this board who isn't willing to stand up to reality ... but we have a job to do and the reality is that we are here to do it."

Molina's comment was apparently a reference to Supervisor Don Knabe, who cast the lone vote against closing Rancho, which is in his district.

"I'll take my shots from Gloria," Knabe said. "I just didn't feel the people at Rancho were given a fair shake on that issue."

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