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Judge Again Bars County From Shuttering Rancho

Officials must first show the Downey center's patients will receive care from other providers.

May 07, 2003|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

Bolstering her earlier rulings, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday, barring Los Angeles County from closing Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center until it can demonstrate that disabled Medi-Cal patients will receive comparable and timely care from other providers.

In a 19-page order that relied heavily on sworn declarations from doctors and health-care experts, the judge found that "if Rancho closes, many of the needs of these patients ... could not and would not be met in the Los Angeles area."

She said that closing the Downey hospital would violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by denying hundreds of disabled patients access to public services.

"We've very pleased," said Eve Hill, director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights, which brought the class-action lawsuit along with Protection and Advocacy Inc., the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the National Senior Citizens Law Center and the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis.

It could be months before the case goes to trial, virtually ensuring that Rancho will remain open beyond the county's planned June 30 closing date.

For county leaders, the ruling jumbles carefully devised plans to head off a major budget shortfall by sharply reducing health services. Director Thomas Garthwaite of the Department of Health Services said this week that, if Rancho remains open, the department probably will be forced to cut other hospital or clinic services to pay Rancho's $59-million annual bill. He said the county was negotiating with several hospitals.

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