Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, March 13, 2003


Page 3


Lawsuit Filed to Block Proposed Los Angeles County Hospital Closures


By LORELEI LAIRD, Staff Writer


Budget cuts that would close a major trauma hospital and reduce emergency room beds are not only damaging but illegal, legal aid organization leaders said  yesterday in discussing their suit to block the county’s action.

The ACLU of Southern California, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, along with the Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness and individual patients, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court asking the court to stop budget cuts enacted by the Board of Supervisors. Named as defendants are the supervisors, the county Department of Health Services and its director, Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, as well as Governor Gray Davis and two state health services leaders.

“These most recent January cuts would dismantle the countywide health are system and shrink the county’s capacity to provide medically necessary care beyond any professionally defensible standard of care,” staff attorney Yolanda Vera of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles said.

The lawsuit was an expected response to the Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 28 vote to close Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and eliminate 100 beds at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center’s emergency room. Together with the board’s November vote to eliminate 11 other health centers, the plaintiffs argue, the cuts are a violation of the state Welfare and Institute Code, which obligates the county to provide needed health care for the poor in a timely and humane manner.

At a news conference yesterday speakers argued that closure of the rehabilitation facilities and reduction of emergency room services would cause unnecessary illness and death, and further cripple an already struggling emergency care system. Dr. Ed Newton, interim chief of the County/USC emergency room, said his facility is already overtaxed, with 20-40 admitted patients waiting for beds at any given time. With the additional cuts, he said, “My concern is that the entire 911 system is going to implode if they cut these beds.”

Gary Harris, a plaintiff and a patient at Rancho Los Amigos, also spoke. The victim of a drive-by shooting in December, Harris was left paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. With the therapy he received at the top-rated medical center, he’s now able to walk with the assistance of crutches.

“I’m convinced that if it wasn’t for Rancho, I would still be in a wheelchair today,” he said.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction against the January budget cuts as well as a writ of mandate preventing the supervisors from enacting more cuts that would make the county unable to meet its obligation to provide indigent health care.

Russell Lopez, a spokesman for the governor, said his office does not comment on pending litigation. Representatives of the county counsel’s office were not available for comment, and a spokesman for the county health department declined to comment.

This is the second lawsuit filed in response to the closure of Rancho Los Amigos. Last week, a coalition of disability rights groups filed a lawsuit against the county in federal court, claiming the closure of the rehabilitation facility is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act because it would leave the county unable to provide medical care to certain types of disabled people.

The California Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization, on Jan. 28 proposed to the Board of Supervisors its plan to convert Rancho Los Amigos to a nonprofit organization in order to keep it open. Foundation president Jack Shakely is to present a report on that project to the supervisors on April 1.


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company