Closure of Memorial ER Is Protested

Times Staff Writer

Upset over the planned closure of an emergency room in their city, Inglewood residents and community leaders warned hospital officials Thursday night that the move would jeopardize care in one of Los Angeles County’s most densely populated areas.

They called on the operators of Memorial hospital, formerly known as Daniel Freeman Memorial, to reconsider plans announced this week to shut the healthcare facility’s emergency room in November.

“Socially and morally, you need to provide these services to this community,” said the Rev. Eric P. Lee, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles.


His remarks came at a gathering of about 150 residents, hospital employees and community leaders at the First Church of God on Crenshaw Boulevard in Inglewood to discuss the expected closure of the emergency room. Several expressed concern that the move would be the first step toward shutting the entire facility.

“If they can close this ER, in a heartbeat they’ll close that hospital,” said Lark GallowayGilliam, director of Community Health Councils, a South Los Angeles health advocacy group that helped organize Thursday’s meeting.

The hospital’s operator, Centinela Freeman HealthSystem, announced Tuesday that it would close Memorial’s emergency room and consolidate all of its local emergency care at its sister facility, Centinela hospital, about 1 1/2 miles away.

To absorb more patients, 24-hour urgent care clinics would be opened at Memorial and Centinela.

But patients will have to pay for services at the new clinics. By law, emergency room patients must be screened and stabilized, regardless of their ability to pay.

HealthSystem President and Chief Executive Michael A. Rembis said the change was necessary to cut costs. He said about 60% of the patients seen at the hospitals’ emergency rooms were treated for non-emergency conditions.

In addition, Rembis said, many of those patients lacked insurance and came to the emergency rooms for primary or urgent care, placing a huge financial burden on the health system.

He said Centinela Freeman was losing $30 million a year.

Hospital emergency rooms have been one of the few viable healthcare options for the uninsured, which account for about a third of all Californians, according to the Hospital Assn. of Southern California.

The Memorial emergency room would be the 10th to close in Los Angeles County in the last five years as hospitals buckle under the strain of caring for the uninsured.

At Thursday’s community meeting, Jaqueline Hurd, Memorial’s chief nursing officer, said the hospital had lost $85 million in the last five years, making the closing of the emergency room a vital way to “ensure there is still a healthcare system to serve our community.”

Upset residents and community leaders, however, noted that the emergency room is close to Los Angeles International Airport and would be needed in the event of a terrorist attack.

They also said the Centinela emergency room would be the only one left within a five-mile radius in a densely populated area.

“Healthcare is a right. We’ve got to have a sufficient safety net of healthcare,” said Leannette Hill, a former Inglewood resident who attended the meeting to express her concerns.


Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein contributed to this report.