Brotman Medical Closes Its Burn Center : Losses Caused by Cuts in Medicare, Medi-Cal Reimbursements Cited

Times Staff Writers

Amid tears from staff members, Brotman Medical Center closed its Michael Jackson Burn Center on Friday.

Brotman spokeswoman Diane Sherman said the Culver City hospital shut the 23-bed burn center, which had only four patients Friday, with “deep regret.” She blamed it on the center’s “significant losses.”

Sherman, without disclosing the amount, said the center has been losing money because of a reduction in government reimbursements for Medicare and Medi-Cal patients and a declining number of burn patients. Similar problems also prompted the recent shutdown of four of the county’s private hospital trauma centers, specially equipped facilities for treating victims of serious emergencies.

The loss of the Brotman unit leaves only three burn centers in Los Angeles County: the 30-bed burn center at Sherman Oaks Community Hospital, the eight-bed unit at Torrance Memorial Hospital and the 16-to-19-bed unit at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.


The mood among employees was somber Friday as rumors circulated that the closing of the burn center and other cutbacks this month indicated deeper financial problems at Brotman Medical. Brotman and 103 other hospitals, most of them considered weak financial performers, are about to be sold by Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corp. of America to a newly formed firm called HospitalTrust Inc. owned by HCA employees.

The burn center was opened in 1972 and given its current name in 1984 after pop singer Michael Jackson gave it an endowment. At the time, the money was said to be earmarked for research into burn treatment, but Sherman said the burn center received no operating money from the fund. The funds were used for patient entertainment.

Jackson’s contribution, described by officials three years ago as “a lot,” was made in thanks for treatment he received after the back of his head was burned during the filming of a Pepsi commercial.

Hospital employees and Jackson’s representatives learned of the closing only hours before it happened.


Through his publicist Lee Solters, Jackson labeled the closure “deplorable, cruel and for commercial reasons.” Jackson is looking for another hospital to house a burn unit bearing his name, Solters said.

Of the four patients still in the burn ward Friday, two were discharged, one was moved to Brotman’s orthopedic unit and one--reportedly in critical condition with burns over 90% of his body--was transferred to Torrance Memorial Hospital.

The Brotman burn center’s six employees, all nurses, will be reassigned to other parts of the hospital, Sherman said.

Sherman and HCA officials declined to discuss financial information about Brotman Medical Center. HCA hospitals make their own decisions about what services their communities can support, a company spokeswoman said.

Employees Upset

According to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, to which California hospitals must report financial information, Brotman Medical Center had 1986 net income of $3.1 million on revenue of $85.2 million, compared to 1985 net income of $433,916 on revenue of $90.3 million.

Hospital employees “are all very upset and very scared,” said Stephen Patt, a family practitioner who has been on Brotman’s staff for a year. “I know people who have lost their jobs suddenly in the last week.”

Sherman confirmed that the medical intensive-care unit recently was combined with the surgical intensive-care unit, saying “it was more efficient to do it that way.” About 35 of the hospital’s 1,400 employees were laid off a week ago, but no further layoffs are planned, she said. The laid-off employees were not involved with patient care and did not include any doctors or nurses, she said.


“We’re going through the same type of reductions and restructuring that all hospitals are going through,” Sherman said. She said, however, that there are no plans to close any other units of the hospital.

Stefan Unterhalter, a doctor of internal medicine who has worked in the Brotman burn unit for seven years, said the staff is “stressed out. They can’t believe this is actually happening. Some of the nurses have invested 15 years here.

Representatives of Sherman Oaks Community Hospital and Torrance Memorial Hospital reported that their burn centers are busy and profitable. Mark Costa, Torrance Memorial’s vice president of administration, said “there’s no doubt” that the closing of Brotman’s burn center will mean that the other local burn centers will become yet busier.