Grossman Burn Center, well-known for treating many of the nation's high-profile burn victims, is leaving its 40-year home at Sherman Oaks Hospital for West Hills Hospital & Medical Center.
Burn center founder Dr. A. Richard Grossman said the move was prompted in part by frustration since a new owner took over at the Sherman Oaks facility several years ago. The center will move early next year.
Sherman Oaks Hospital was acquired in 2006 by Prime Healthcare Services Inc., a Victorville-based company with 13 hospitals run by chairman and cardiologist Dr. Prem Reddy. Prime is known for its efforts to cut costs and boost profits.
Southern California has few burn centers because they are an enormous expense for medical organizations, said Grossman, who launched the burn center in 1969 at Sherman Oaks with just two beds.
"Burns are a no-win for hospitals," he said. "They can have heart and obesity patients and make a lot of money there, but burns are money losers."
With each hospital acquisition, Prime canceled insurance contracts and collected higher reimbursements, while cutting staff and shortening patients' stays. Some services, including chemotherapy and mental health treatments, were suspended if they weren't deemed sufficiently profitable.
Although the burn center was never directly affected by cuts, Grossman said the staffing dwindled down to a skeleton crew after the acquisition. Without insurance, many burn patients couldn't afford treatment, he said.
He said his son and co-director, Dr. Peter H. Grossman, also wanted a facility where his staff could conduct research.
Overall, "it wasn't right," he said. "It's gotten to be tighter and tighter, and we've had to look for another place to grow."
The move comes as West Hills Hospital is wrapping up a $60-million expansion that includes a new emergency department, intensive care unit and outpatient services. The hospital is owned by Tennessee-based HCA Inc., also known as Hospital Corp. of America, which owns nine facilities in California.
The deal has been in the works for several months, said West Hills Chief Executive Beverly Gilmore.
Until this week, Sherman Oaks Hospital had been in negotiations with the Grossmans to try to keep the burn center, Chief Executive John Rossfeld said.
But now, the hospital will focus on filling the facility with new services. Rossfeld also said some existing operations may be transferred from the hospital to the burn center's earthquake-ready building.
"We had hoped to continue to have a relationship with the Grossmans," he said. "But we're happy the burn center will be able to remain in the San Fernando Valley, and we will do everything to ensure this is a smooth and easy transition. Then we'll just move on to other options."
The move to West Hills will create about 35 jobs, Grossman said, in addition to the four surgeons who will follow the center from Sherman Oaks.
The addition of the burn facility will add 18 ICU beds to West Hills' current 212.
The hospital expects to spend less than $5 million to install equipment for hyperbaric oxygen therapy and make other modifications required by health and fire departments, Gilmore said. The Grossman facility currently has 30 beds, with six intensive-care beds that have dedicated nurses.
While best known for its treatment of firefighters and children, the burn center offers services that include acute care, reconstruction, rehabilitation and psychological counseling.
Grossman also has centers in Santa Ana and Lafayette, La. Another center is being completed in Bakersfield.
Recent well-known patients include rocker Travis Barker and the late celebrity disc jockey Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein. Barker, the drummer for rock band Blink-182, and Goldstein, who was found dead in his New York apartment last week, were treated at the Sherman Oaks center last year after suffering severe burns in a plane crash.
Grossman said he was ready to put his decades in Sherman Oaks behind him. Two years and several offers after he began looking for a replacement location, he said he was looking forward to the "college campus" feel and the potential of West Hills.
"They're putting a lot of investment into new construction, and that's something that we never got here," he said. "We got some paint jobs and that's about it. There, they'll bend over backward for us."