Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved today to preemptively block the closure of a private hospital trauma center in Lynwood.

Daughters of Charity Health System operates a network of six hospitals in California, including St. Francis Medical Center, which houses the busiest private trauma center in Los Angeles County. The network is expected to lose more than $150 million this year. and DCHS is in the midst of a process to sell all or some of its hospitals.

St. Francis handles about 2,000 trauma cases annually, or about 8 percent of cases countywide, according to Dr. Mitchell Katz, director of the county Department of Health Services.

Katz said trauma centers are expensive to operate.

“Hospitals are sometimes unwilling to spend that money and they want to close trauma centers,” Katz said. “We should do everything possible to ensure that our residents retain this service.”

The closest alternatives for trauma care are at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, about 12 miles away, and California Hospital Medical Center, about 13 miles away.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said “it would be a huge step backward” for the community if the facility is closed. He warned that one of the potential bidders for the hospital network has a record of downgrading services.

Ridley-Thomas didn’t name that bidder, and DCHS has declined to name any of the seven qualified competitors who may have submitted final bids. However, hospital workers have protested a potential acquisition by Prime Healthcare Services Inc., accusing the for-profit chain of cutting patient services and laying off employees.

DCHS has charged employee unions with putting the community’s needs at risk.

“We are hoping to move through the approval process quickly in order to avoid disruption of hospital services,” DCHS President and CEO Robert Issai said in a statement earlier this month. “Criticism of specific buyers by the hospital unions and others is premature and irresponsible, given that no decision has been made.”

Without a buyer, Issai warned, the nonprofit might be forced to shut down hospitals.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky recommended sending a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, opposing any sale that would result in closing the trauma center. The attorney general must consent to any sale by the nonprofit hospital network.

Ridley-Thomas proposed that Katz and his team look at the feasibility of establishing a trauma center at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, set to open next year.

The board’s vote in favor of both proposals was unanimous.

— City News Service

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