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St. Joseph to Pull Out of Trauma System June 19

Times Staff Writer

Citing annual losses of up to $2 million and accusing Gov. George Deukmejian of “hijacking” health care funds, officials at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank announced Wednesday that they will end the hospital’s involvement with Los Angeles County’s trauma care network June 19.

In formally announcing the move, administrator James Sauer said the hospital is not being adequately reimbursed by state and federal agencies for providing health services. He also said the closure is due to trauma center operating costs and the cost of providing care to an increasing number of indigent patients.

With St. Joseph’s pullout, eight hospitals have quit the trauma care network since its inception in 1984.

Sauer criticized Deukmejian for withholding Proposition 99 funds that he said should have been targeted for health care.

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“St. Joseph Medical Center contends that if the Proposition 99 issue is not resolved and the funds not released, there will be a continued exodus of hospitals from the trauma system, possible downsizing of basic emergency services in other hospitals and, ultimately, a continued deterioration of the availability of health care,” he said.

Proposition 99 was approved by voters in November and placed a 25-cent-a-pack tax increase on cigarettes. Sauer said $650 million from the collected taxes should have gone to provide health care for the indigent.

But Sauer said Deukmejian has diverted the funds for purposes other than health care. “He has hijacked the funds and changed the will of the people,” he said. “It’s unconscionable.”

Trauma centers are designed to treat people suffering critical injuries from auto accidents, falls and violent incidents. Each trauma center in the network is required to have a neurosurgeon and other trauma-care specialists on duty 24 hours a day.

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St. Joseph is treating 650 trauma cases a year, Sauer said. About 20% of those are brought to the hospital from outside the assigned zone, he said.

When it entered the network, the hospital only expected to handle 350 cases per year, he said. He said 60% of its trauma care costs are not compensated by the government.

Closed 22 Times

Sauer added that the trauma center had to close 22 times in January because of a lack of beds.

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Hospital officials said St. Joseph lost $1.5 million in 1987 and predicted that losses in 1988 would reach $2 million.

Sauer said that although the hospital was dropping out of the network, it would continue to treat trauma and emergency cases. Although trauma-care specialists would not be on duty 24 hours a day, they could be reached by beepers, he said.

He said the hospital would become more of a community facility, and “no one would be turned away” due to their inability to pay for care.


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