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Hospital Plans to Close More Units

Decision to cut surgical care, other services at Memorial in Inglewood raises fresh concerns about the availability of healthcare in South L.A.

October 12, 2006|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

Memorial hospital in Inglewood confirmed Wednesday that it expects to close more departments, raising new concerns about the availability of healthcare service in and around South Los Angeles.

Centinela Freeman HealthSystem, the hospital's operator, announced last month that it would close Memorial's emergency room and consolidate its local emergency care at Centinela hospital, about 1 1/2 miles away. But management said Wednesday that it also is exploring shutting or shrinking such additional Memorial departments as its medical-surgical unit and its telemetry unit, where patients are monitored for heart and respiratory problems.

Radiology and lab services also are likely to be cut back.

"With the consolidation of the emergency rooms, we anticipate that there are going to be additional changes at Memorial," said Michael Rembis, president and chief executive of Centinela Freeman. He said that because Memorial no longer will admit patients from its own emergency room, the demand for other medical services is likely to decline.

At the same time, Rembis said, services would be expanded at Centinela hospital to take care of patients diverted from Memorial, formerly called Daniel Freeman Memorial.

"We're trying to consolidate services at Centinela in this community, not reduce services. If any services are reduced, it would be done only with the understanding that there's adequate supply in the community to meet the needs," he said.

Rembis added that the company plans to lease out parts of Memorial or to form partnerships with other firms to provide new services, including skilled nursing and hospice care.

But United Healthcare Workers, the union representing about 500 of the 800 Memorial employees, accused management of misleading the community about its plans. Union officials said the hospital's management told them that the only units the company will continue to offer at Memorial will be urgent care and acute rehabilitation, meaning that other departments, such as pediatrics and the intensive care unit, would be closed, along with the units mentioned by Rembis.

In addition, union officials -- who earlier in the day disclosed the news that more services are likely to be cut at Memorial -- said management is moving too slowly to expand Centinela to accommodate extra patients. The Memorial emergency room is expected to close in December.

"It absolutely defies logic for a hospital system that has been running a full-fledged acute care hospital to say, 'Two months from now, the doors are going to shut, and the services are going to be put in a hospital a mile away,' and yet they are not set up in that hospital, they have no timeline on when they're going to be set up, they have no staff to deliver the services, they have no plan to educate the community," said Barbara Lewis, a union vice president.

Hospital officials rejected Lewis' contentions, and called the union's complaints a tactic to help it in contract negotiations -- a claim that the union, in turn, denied. The union's four-year contract with Centinela Freeman HealthSystem expires in December.

Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Los Angeles, agreed with several of the union's concerns.

She said the Memorial cutbacks, together with plans to slash services at the troubled Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in Willowbrook, south of Watts, are "too big of a hit for Los Angeles County," and her group has called for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to take swift action to maintain healthcare in the area.

stuart.silverstein@latimes.com

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