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Distress and protest amid shutdown

August 11, 2007|Sam Quinones and Jack Leonard | Times Staff Writers

About 5 p.m. Friday, the signs went up at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, in Spanish and English: "Emergency Department Closed. No Emergency Services."

Later, under a setting sun, a small group of protesters arrived with their own signs. They were joined briefly by Frankie Boyett, a patient receiving treatment for a heart condition, who ambled outside in his light blue hospital gown. He took one of the placards and held it aloft, flashing its message to the TV cameras: "I have a dream -- health care for all, young and old."

That dream, however, has been suspended indefinitely. County officials made the move after federal regulators halted $200 million in annual funding for the long-troubled facility.

County leaders hope to resurrect the hospital under a private provider, but that pledge did little to lift the somber mood at the Willowbrook hospital Friday.

"To work here so many years," said Craig Howard, a nurse manager at the facility for nearly two decades, "it hurts."

By Friday evening, the only ambulances arriving were collecting patients rather than bringing them. After being downsized last year, the hospital had been reduced to 48 beds. Those were full Friday, forcing doctors to transfer patients.

Armando Verduzco arrived to visit his mother-in-law, who had gone to the emergency room earlier in the day suffering from stomach pain.

Verduzco said he was worried about the hospital's reputation for harming patients. But he said that the community would probably suffer without its emergency room. He said many residents do not have health insurance and cannot afford to visit a private hospital.

Deloris Darby, who was visiting an adult son at the hospital, agreed. "Time's going to tell how bad it's going to be."

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sam.quinones@latimes.com

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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