Judge Blocks Rancho’s Closing

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday preventing Los Angeles County from closing Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center or slashing its services as she weighs arguments in the case.

In the three-page emergency order, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper said that services were already being reduced at the Downey hospital, which could cause “irreparable injury” to the county’s disabled patients.

With plans to shut Rancho scrambled, county supervisors grappled Tuesday with the possibility that their health budget gap may widen much sooner than anticipated.

“I kind of wanted to call [the judge] up and say, wait a darn minute here,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.


Even before the judge issued the restraining order, questions flew and tempers flared at the County Hall of Administration during the weekly board meeting as lawmakers pondered what the court would do.

About 100 protesters waved signs urging supervisors to keep Rancho and other health services intact.

Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, director of the Department of Health Services, laid out the grim calculations.

If the county is forced to keep Rancho open, the health department will be $24 million in the hole by 2005.


Rescinding other cuts, including a planned 100-bed reduction at County-USC Medical Center, would make financial matters worse, he said.

Supervisors responded with a steady stream of questions that hinted at the anxiety and confusion about the county’s future.

From Supervisor Mike Antonovich: “Does a bankruptcy force the state to take over the health department?”

And from Gloria Molina, who had expected a briefing about a California Community Foundation showing that Rancho could be privatized: “Are we going to get a report? Wasn’t it due today? ... Are they going to be pursuing a nonprofit [to take over Rancho] or are we? What’s going on?”

Things may become a little clearer Monday, when Cooper is expected to decide whether to issue a temporary injunction that would keep Rancho open until the county shows that disabled Medi-Cal patients could find comparable care elsewhere. (Her restraining order, meanwhile, will expire May 13.)

Rancho patients such as Dorothy Walton, a 49-year-old West Covina woman with multiple sclerosis, expressed relief that the hospital may get a second chance.

Before she found Rancho, Walton had sought treatment at County-USC, where she said she waited months for appointments and endured lost medical records and bathrooms unequipped to handle disabled people.

“I’m thrilled,” Walton said. “It’s the most fantastic place. They treat you with dignity and respect.”