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Columbia/HCA Reacquires Former Westlake Medical Center

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., the nation’s largest hospital chain, is reacquiring the former Westlake Medical Center.

The unusual move settles litigation between the current owner, Salick Health Care Inc. of Los Angeles, and Columbia, which also owns hospitals to the north and south of the Westlake site. Salick bought the hospital from Columbia last summer for $8 million.

Salick officials informed doctors and employees at the renamed SHC Specialty Hospital on Thursday that Columbia/HCA will take possession of the facility within 60 days, said Patrick McDonough, hospital executive director.

Just last week, the same group of physicians and staff members was told the hospital, at 4415 Lakeview Canyon Road, would close by Aug. 11. They were told the hospital, which sees 50 to 60 outpatients daily but only has two or three inpatients, was financially draining the company.

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McDonough said terms of the settlement are confidential. The hospital was the cancer-care provider’s only stand-alone facility. Nationwide, Salick operates 10 other comprehensive cancer centers in or near existing hospitals.

“We’re glad it’s over,” said Ron Phelps, chief executive officer at Columbia Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks.

Phelps said the company has no immediate plans for the 126-bed facility, though he ruled out opening a full-service hospital.

Columbia will continue with its plans for a 1998 opening of the former Charter Hospital site--at 150 Via Merida in Westlake Village--which the company bought in May.

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Regarding the litigation and flip-flopping of ownership at the former Westlake Medical Center, Phelps said, “It’s been divisive for the companies, clearly. It’s been divisive for the medical staff in some part, and it’s been divisive for the community.”

The fate of the 20-acre property is one of the more closely watched episodes in health care in the Conejo Valley.

Westlake Medical Center was founded and owned by doctors for its first decade. Then, in 1981, it was acquired by Universal Health Services.

Columbia acquired Westlake in 1995, and at first promised not to make major changes. In 1996, however, Columbia announced it would shut down many services at the site and reduce it from its status then as an acute care hospital.

The announcement prompted public protest and resulted in the sale to Salick, which at the time was leasing space inside the facility for its cancer center. Salick had to go to court to force Memphis-based Columbia to sell.

Attached to the conditions of sale were deed restrictions that limited Salick’s care to cancer, immune-deficient, dialysis and organ-transplant patients. Salick promptly sued to get those restrictions lifted and also charged that Columbia had unfairly monopolized health-care services in the area. A trial was scheduled for Aug. 13.

In April, however, Zeneca PLC, a British pharmaceutical, purchased Salick and ousted its namesake, Dr. Bernard Salick, as CEO.

“From my perspective, the leadership change had a lot to do with reaching a prompt settlement,” he said.

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McDonough said Salick Health Care is doing its best to place the 75 employees at other facilities. Salick’s Breast Care Center, which just 45 days ago moved into the Specialty Hospital from a separate site, will also close.

“Salick Health Care is pleased that the litigation is resolved. We intend to facilitate the exchange of property as smoothly and quickly as possible,” McDonough said.

Phelps said Columbia officials will talk to local doctors, community members and upper management to ascertain what type of uses would be desirable at the former Westlake Medical Center. The options could include selling the facility. “It depends on the offer, I suppose,” Phelps said.

Salick, who has started a new company, has said he is interested in opening another cancer center in Westlake. And Tenet Healthcare Corp. of Santa Barbara is investigating whether the market could support a second hospital.


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