Ninth Circuit Upholds Rancho Los Amigos Injunction
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel yesterday upheld an order barring Los Angeles County from closing a Downey rehabilitation facility without guaranteeing that Medi-Cal patients could get similar care elsewhere.
The appellate court ruled that U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the Central District of California acted within her discretion when she granted a preliminary injunction late last year that blocked, at least temporarily, the county’s plan to shutter the 207-bed Rancho Los Amigos hospital.
Rancho Los Amigos specializes in care for patients with long-term disabilities, and the county claims it can save $58.6 million annually by closing it. But Judge Harry Pregerson, writing for the Ninth Circuit, said the class representatives who sued are likely to prevail on their claim that closing the only one of six county hospitals focusing on disabled patients would violate the Americans With Disabilities Act.
About 67 percent of the inpatients at the 116-year-old facility are Medi-Cal recipients, according to evidence filed in support of the preliminary injunction motion. Fifty-eight percent of its outpatients receive Medi-Cal benefits.
“[P]laintiffs presented ample evidence that rehabilitative services and treatment for complex and disabling medical conditions, such as paralysis and conditions associated with severe diabetes, cannot currently be provided effectively anywhere in the County system but Rancho,” Pregerson wrote.
Closing the facility would be discriminatory, the judge said, because it would “deny certain disabled individuals meaningful access to government-provided services because of their unique needs, while others would retain access to the same class of services.”
The judge also said the closure would actually end up increasing the county’s costs because the about 8,600 inpatients and 2,600 outpatients served there each year would have to be treated at other facilities, and could develop complications.
“Thus, while it is unclear just how much financial hardship the district court’s injunction creates for the County, it is apparent that the cost is lower than the County contends,” Pregerson wrote. He also noted that the county has a surplus, and does not expect a deficit until 2006-2007.
Judge William Fletcher and Third Circuit Senior Judge Robert E. Cowen, sitting by designation, joined in the opinion.
The county’s appellate counsel, Timothy Coates of Greines, Martin, Stein, & Richland, criticized the ruling but said no decision has been made on whether to pursue en banc rehearing.
“I think the reasoning on the level of services required ...is problematic,” Coates told City News Service. “I think it creates more problems than it solves.”
The plaintiffs were represented on appeal by Jeffrey S. Davidson of Kirkland & Ellis, who argued before the Ninth Circuit, and Melinda Bird of Protection & Advocacy, Inc., who worked on the briefs.
The case is Rodde v. Bont·, 03-55765.
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