Drive Starts to Save Rancho as Private Facility

Times Staff Writers

The county's decision to close Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center has set off a scramble to raise millions of dollars in donations to keep its doors open and eventually convert it to a nonprofit hospital.The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, already strapped for funds and bracing for further reductions outlined in the state budget, decided Tuesday that the county can no longer afford Rancho, despite the hospital's reputation as a premier facility for the treatment of spinal cord and head injuries.

But many health-care advocates believe the hospital can survive if it is transformed into a private nonprofit facility. A leading proponent of this approach is the California Community Foundation, which commissioned a study on ways to save Rancho.

On Wednesday, foundation President Jack Shakely said he has already begun work on assembling a board to run the hospital as a nonprofit facility and was optimistic after talking to potential donors.

"We're very happy," Shakely said. "We're putting it together even as we speak."

The transition from a county-run hospital to a nonprofit operation promises to be difficult, given the glacial grant-making process and the county's unwillingness to pour more money into a hospital already scheduled for closure.

Rancho's closure, part of an ongoing realignment of the Department of Health Services, is expected to save the county $350 million over the next two to three years.

There are no provisions in the plan for converting Rancho into a nonprofit facility, and county officials say that diverting the $55 million to $75 million per year needed to keep Rancho open during a transition could endanger other hospitals.

"We can't fund it," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Wednesday. "The philanthropic community of the city and county needs to come to the rescue of this institution with transitional funding."

The foundation's report was presented to supervisors Tuesday. It said that Rancho has the potential to attract private donations because of its perennial status as one of U.S. News and World Report's top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the country, its stature as an academic and research hospital, and its success at rehabilitating patients with some of the most severe injuries.

Its status as a county hospital limits the hospital's access to lucrative managed-care contracts and patients with private insurance, according to the consultant who prepared the report.

During the hearing, Shakely compared Rancho's fund-raising potential with other well-known nonprofit facilities.

"The Cleveland Clinic brings in $90 million [in annual charitable donations]," Shakely said. "Star of Hope brings in $85 million. Our own Childrens Hospital brings in $60 million."

He predicted that Rancho could raise $25 million to $50 million in private charitable donations within five years.

The board asked Shakely to report within 60 days on funding commitments he is able to procure.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Friday January 31, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 14 inches; 513 words Type of Material: Correction Rancho Los Amigos -- An article in Thursday's California section about fund-raising efforts to save Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center incorrectly identified a nonprofit hospital. The Star of Hope hospital mentioned in the story is actually City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte.
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