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Closure to Leave 1 Trauma Unit for San Gabriel Valley

Times Staff Writer

Methodist Hospital in Arcadia will become the eighth hospital in Los Angeles County to close its trauma center, leaving only one such center in the San Gabriel Valley.

“We are no longer able to bear the costs to operate the service,” Frederick C. Meyer, the hospital’s president, said Monday. The trauma center will close Jan. 1.

Meyer said financial losses for the 4-year-old trauma center have grown to $1.5 million a year. “A major problem is that about 25% of our trauma patients are not insured,” Meyer said.

The hospital’s announcement comes amid a growing national crisis in emergency health care that has hit the county especially hard. Seven of the county’s original network of 23 trauma centers have closed during the past three years.

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Those seven are Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina, Pomona Valley Community Hospital in Pomona, California Medical Center in downtown Los Angeles, Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, Santa Monica Hospital Medical Center, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center and Antelope Valley Hospital Medical Center.

Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena will be the closest remaining trauma center. Huntington, which treats about 55 trauma patients a month, has no plans to close its center, said hospital spokeswoman Kay Murphy.

“Huntington is a trauma center and will continue to be a trauma center,” Murphy said. “The (trauma) program will be constantly reevaluated in terms of the hospital’s resources and commitment to serve the community. Those two have to be balanced.”

She said hospital officials will be meeting with county health administrators to discuss the future of Huntington’s role in the trauma network.

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Virginia Price Hastings, chief of the paramedic and trauma hospitals program for the county, said the Methodist trauma center closing “caught (us) a little off guard here. It’s very clear we are going to have a gaping hole in trauma care in the San Gabriel Valley.”

Methodist Hospital’s trauma center for 700,000 people in the San Gabriel and Antelope valleys has been treating between 450 and 500 trauma patients a month. Most of the center’s patients are car accident victims.

Critically injured patients in the area will have to be rushed to trauma centers at Huntington, Whittier Presbyterian Hospital in Whittier or County-USC Medical Center east of downtown Los Angeles, Hastings said.

“I don’t know whether they will be able to absorb” the extra patients, Hastings said.

Hastings said county health officials will meet with administrators of the remaining trauma centers and fire officials, who help provide paramedic care, to discuss how best to cover the San Gabriel Valley.

Methodist Hospital’s decision to pull out of the county’s 5-year-old trauma center system leaves 15 centers in the system--three at county hospitals and 12 at private hospitals.

Without the center in Arcadia, Hastings said, patients may not be able to reach a trauma unit within what is known as the “golden hour"--the hour immediately after a critical injury during which trauma patients have the best chance of survival.

Unlike a hospital emergency room where surgical teams are available only on an on-call basis, a trauma center has a surgeon and anesthesiologist present 24 hours a day.

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In January, the Board of Supervisors authorized $7.2 million to reimburse trauma centers for some of the costs of treating patients who could not pay. But even with that financial assistance, Meyer said, the hospital was recouping only 10% of what it costs to treat an indigent trauma patient.

One solution is to require employers to provide medical insurance, he said.

Of the 5.2 million California residents who do not have medical insurance, 70% are employed or are dependents of those who are, said Steve Gamble, president of the Hospital Council of Southern California. He and Meyer urged passage of Proposition 99, which would provide money from the state tobacco tax to the county for health programs.

Meyer said his hospital’s announcement Monday was not based on politics but was timed to meet a 60-day notice requirement that it must give the county before withdrawing from the trauma network.


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