Reed to Urge Closure of County-USC

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The legendary County-USC Medical Center, one of the nation's busiest and most storied hospitals, would be closed and 10,000 jobs would be eliminated as part of a new county budget-balancing plan that surfaced Thursday.

The budget proposal, which Chief Administrative Officer Sally Reed will formally present to the Board of Supervisors on Monday, sparked predictions that the medical center closure would swamp other hospitals with patients, force the closure of other emergency rooms and leave tens of thousands of patients without health care.

"There would be a disastrous meltdown of the emergency and trauma systems in the county and vastly increased number of deaths because people in the Central City wouldn't be able to get immediate help," said David Langness, a spokesman for the Healthcare Assn. of Southern California.

Reed's proposal is only the first step in what will be a long budget process. The ultimate decision to close the hospital rests in the hands of the Board of Supervisors. Reed reportedly will tell the supervisors that an alternative to closing County-USC would be to close the county's five other public hospitals, which she is not recommending.

Board Chairwoman Gloria Molina said closing the largest hospital west of the Mississippi would destroy the 911 emergency system and eliminate any form of trauma network from Downtown Los Angeles to Pomona.

"It's devastating, not only to the indigent community, but to the working poor and the well-being of all the rest of us," Molina said.

Reed said closing the outdated hospital, which is more than 60 years old, would solve only about half of the $655-million health services budget problem, and that other clinics and health facilities would have to be closed.

The anchor of the medical center is the famed General Hospital, which has been the location for numerous television shows, including the soap opera that bears its name.

Located in Boyle Heights in the center of a largely low-income community on the Eastside, the medical center serves indigent patients who have few other alternatives for health care.

It is the only trauma center between Downtown Los Angeles and the San Bernardino County border. The hospital handles about of 28% of all trauma cases in the county. The average of 650 emergency room visits a day, each day, year-round, make it the nation's busiest emergency hospital.

About 10,000 babies, many of them from high-risk pregnancies, are delivered each year at the Women's and Children's Hospital, a free-standing facility next door that also would be closed down.

Strategically, the medical center plays a major role in specialty care, a role that hospital planners say other hospitals would be hard-pressed to pick up.

It is one of only three burn centers in the county, and handles one-third of all AIDS patients in the county. A recent study determined that 2%--or 1 in 50--of the nation's new tuberculosis cases were diagnosed at the medical center.

Also at risk would be the nearby USC School of Medicine, which trains 900 residents at the hospital and has a 100-year-old contractual relationship with the county, and a county-run 350-student nursing school located on the medical center grounds.

"Closing the hospital would be one of the major tragedies to hit this county," said Dr. Robert Karns, president of the medical association.

Times staff writer Frederick M. Muir contributed to this story.

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