Westlake Medical Center in Westlake Village plans to close its trauma center June 30, eliminating the only 24-hour-a-day emergency surgical team in the immediate area.
But emergency-medical experts and county health officials said Friday the shutdown will have little or no effect on survival rates of those who are critically injured in the area, which straddles Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Hospital officials could not be reached for comment, but a Los Angeles County health official confirmed that Westlake has notified the county it will drop out of the trauma network for financial reasons.
Westlake will become the 11th hospital to leave the county’s controversial trauma care system since its 1983 inception. Last year, the 13 hospitals still in the network treated 12,080 people with gunshot or other severe head, neck or chest wounds requiring immediate surgery.
Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center handled 3,105 trauma victims in 1993, more than any other hospital in the system. By contrast, Westlake treated 70, according to county figures.
Darlene Isbell, the county’s assistant chief of emergency medical services, said there are a number of hospitals in the area with well-equipped emergency rooms, and she does not expect the loss of Westlake’s trauma center to significantly endanger seriously injured patients.
“We feel fairly confident that we’ll be able to move those patients elsewhere,” she said. “That’s not to say we wouldn’t like to keep the hospital in the system.”
Patients with extremely critical injuries, she said, could be airlifted to other nearby trauma units. In the San Fernando Valley, the closest trauma center is at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, about 25 miles. Ventura County has no trauma centers.
Barbara Brodfuehrer, head of emergency medical services for Ventura County, agreed with Isbell’s assessment, saying local hospitals could handle badly injured patients in their regular emergency rooms.
“I would guess it will have little or no effect on patients in Ventura County,” she said.
Dr. Marshall Morgan, director of emergency services at UCLA Medical Center, said that losing Westlake’s trauma unit is likely to produce delays in getting some critical patients into surgery, but most would not be endangered by that.
“If you have a trauma victim that needs to go straight to the operating room, there may be a 30- to 45-minute delay,” he said. “In most cases, that’s not a problem. But occasionally it is.”
Dr. Brian Johnston, an emergency room physician at White Memorial Hospital in East Los Angeles, said Westlake’s pullout will make little difference to the county’s trauma network, which he said has already collapsed because so many other hospitals have departed.
“The trauma system in Los Angeles has been nonfunctional and a non-system for a number of years,” Johnston said. “The only reason it is reputedly maintained is the Board of Supervisors would find it politically embarrassing to officially allow it to disband.”
In any event, he said, a recent study concluded that even when the system was more complete, it did not significantly improve survival rates.
Unlike regular emergency rooms, which may not have a surgeon on duty, trauma centers are required to have a surgeon and other specialists either on the premises or quickly available around the clock.
In addition, trauma hospitals must keep one operating room empty at all times to receive badly injured patients.
Isbell said that paying to keep such specialists on call at all hours has proven an impossible burden for a number of hospitals that have closed trauma centers.