A wave of threatened closures of hospital emergency rooms in Inglewood and Hawthorne to patients who are transported by paramedics could spread to another South Bay hospital, this time in Gardena, hospital officials disclosed Saturday.
“I’ve tried to hold out as long as possible,” Gardena Memorial Hospital Administrator Phyllis Van Crombrugghe told a community forum at Inglewood City Hall. “The problem must be solved, or our hospital will have to downgrade as well.”
Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood and Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center in Hawthorne recently announced plans to downgrade their emergency rooms. They will no longer accept patients delivered by paramedics. Both cite major financial losses from treating poor, indigent or uninsured patients.
James D. Grant, director of emergency services at Gardena Memorial, said the small for-profit community hospital has seen a 25% increase in emergency room patients in the last year as other hospitals have closed their doors to paramedics or reached the saturation point.
“We’re left as the only emergency room in a very, very large area,” Crombrugghe said. “It is truly a case of dominoes falling. We’re the domino right in the line and we can’t avoid it. We’re a small domino and we can’t afford it.”
Speaker after speaker at the forum, called by freshman Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker Jr. (D-Inglewood), warned that Los Angeles County’s network of trauma centers and emergency rooms is falling apart because of financial problems.
“The emergency medical care system in Los Angeles County is in a state of crisis,” said Bayliss Yarnell, emergency department director at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood. “It is a system that is collapsing. . . . The certain result of this will be a loss of life and limb.”
Yarnell said “the system is simply starving for money.”
Timothy D. Wilson, emergency medical services commander for the Los Angeles City Fire Department, said the consequences of emergency room closures are being felt throughout Los Angeles.
Before the forum, Wilson said he stopped at the scene of a serious traffic accident in West Los Angeles and found that paramedics had been trying without luck for 15 minutes to find a hospital that would accept the accident victims.
“What is happening out there is not just affecting the citizens of Inglewood, East Los Angeles or West Los Angeles,” Wilson said.
He said ambulances are being forced to take patients to more distant hospitals, which means longer travel times and longer response times to other paramedic calls.
William Delgardo, administrator of the Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center said that when an accident victim cannot be taken to the nearest trauma center, “you increase the potential for mortality. That is a fact, plain and simple.”
Assemblyman Tucker told the audience that “middle- to lower-income communities in our state have lost access to health care” and that “the emergency rooms are becoming the primary contact for medical assistance.”
Tucker blamed Gov. George Deukmejian for refusing to earmark $330 million for health care from an increase in the cigarette tax approved by the voters last year. He announced a petition drive aimed at convincing the governor to devote the new tax money to health care.
Virginia Price Hastings, Los Angeles County Trauma Hospital program chief, said the county needs revenues from Proposition 99. “We’re banking on that money and it has not materialized.”
A battle over funding for health care has become a spring ritual in Sacramento as legislators and the governor struggle to put together a final budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Tucker said the threatened emergency room closures are not just rhetoric in the heat of a budget battle, but a life-and-death matter.
“We’re talking extremely real here. This is not the regular song and dance,” Tucker said. “Two years ago, it was burdensome. Last year, it was critical. This year, it is catastrophic.”