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Commentary

An Ax Over a Unique Rehab Unit

January 28, 2003|Ben Mattlin | Ben Mattlin is a contributing editor for Institutional Investor magazine.

Los Angeles faces a health-care deficit of $500 million to $750 million. Still, the county Board of Supervisors was shortsighted in its decision to shut down the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. The center treats about 9,500 patients annually, specializing in solutions for catastrophic injuries and ailments. Fortunately, the supervisors did keep hope alive by scheduling a public hearing on the issue for today.

As a lifelong wheelchair user due to a congenital neuromuscular weakness, I have a deep personal interest in keeping the facility open. I originally went to Rancho as an outpatient several years ago after my longtime doctor in New York recommended it for a problem I was having with my wheelchair. Now I'm working with Rancho on a specially modified wheelchair so I can continue to lead an active life. Sure, there are other wheelchair specialists, but as in my case, they may not be able to help.

Rancho's staff has the best equipment and training to customize solutions for those of us who cannot use cookie-cutter-manufactured wheelchairs. Being uncomfortable and unable to move can mean a complete loss of freedom. Getting the details right can make the difference between having a life and merely maintaining an existence. Rancho knows this.

It's more than technical or engineering know-how. At other social service centers I'm just "the patient." At Rancho, I am a client, a consumer, a partner in choosing what I need. Rancho respects disabled people. Some might argue it's just my problem, but anyone can become a wheelchair user at any time. All it takes is a bad accident. Rancho can't cure disabling conditions, but it is unmatched at making them livable.

The county's financial resources are severely strained. Nevertheless, why cut a resource that potentially benefits so many, rich and poor alike?

Los Angeles voters passed Measure B last year to help fund trauma centers, but what happens after the trauma center? Without Rancho, severely injured people seeking rehab will have to settle for second-best or worse. The cost of that to all of us would be intolerably high.

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