LOS ANGELES - In a press conference today, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California announced the filing of a lawsuit to enjoin the closure of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and the reduction of close to 100 beds at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
"The Board of Supervisors' recent vote to close Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and reduce the number of hospital beds at the County's major trauma care provider, LAC-USC Medical Center, both endangers these patients' lives and violates their rights under state law," said Yolanda Vera, staff attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles. "Even before these cuts, the County's facilities were operating far beyond capacity, with severely ill patients often waiting for months or even years for treatment."
In the Fall of 2002, the County Board of Supervisors eliminated approximately one half million clinic visits per year for poor persons when it closed eleven health centers and cut vital services provided by free and low cost clinics. Community organizations and public interest groups submitted over 2,500 pages of testimony, letters, studies and reports to the County showing the dramatic impact the cuts would have on the quality of medical care in Los Angeles County. Then, in January of 2003, the Board announced even further reductions, voting to close Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and to reduce the number of hospital beds at County's largest trauma care provider, LA County-USC Medical Center.
"Health care is the most fundamental of all the County's obligations," said Sandra Robinson, spokesperson with the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation. "It is not a question of politics or ideology or even economics, it's a question of suffering - and how to end suffering. The medical needs of our community will not go away just because the services are cut."
Just days after voting to make these closures, the County received $250 million dollars in state and federal relief - $100 million more than it had expected. This effectively gave the County a surplus through the 2005/2006 fiscal year.
"I believe it is shortsighted and misguided to cut access to health care for the working poor and uninsured because the resulting affect of such cuts will affect everyone who lives in Los Angeles," said Dr. Daniel Higgins, Director of Emergency Medical Services at St. Francis Medical Center, a private non-profit hospital in Lynwood. "The impact of the Board's recent decision to close various County health facilities is already readily evident, endangering everyone's health care, regardless of economic status."
Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center is the largest safety net provider in one of the most densely populated areas of the County. County-USC serves close to 50,000 inpatients and 750,000 outpatients a year.
Rancho Los Amigos is recognized as one of the best rehabilitation hospitals in the country. The hospital is currently a 207 bed facility with staff specializing in rehabilitation and the acute needs of patients with chronic diseases.
"I went to Rancho Los Amigos with the hope that they could help me learn how to walk again," said Garry Harris, 47, who was the victim of a drive-by shooting that left him paralyzed. "Eventually with the help of the staff I was able to get some mobility with crutches. I no longer have to use a wheelchair."
"For too many years now, Los Angeles County's health care system has been crisis driven, culminating in these cuts," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director for the ACLU of Southern California. "Because no countywide system for the delivery of health care can function without these services, the reductions will only make true reform more difficult. As it stands, two of the largest facilities - LAC-USC and MLK - do not even accept emergency patients 75% and 80% of the time respectively. Closing another 100 beds at County-USC is like trying to get out of a hole by digging deeper."
"I guess to most people who haven't used the services there at Rancho, it just seems like any other hospital or clinic," said Garry Harris, who is also a plaintiff in the suit. "But the fact is that Rancho is unique. I don't know where else I could have got the type of therapy that they provided and I don't know where I'll go if it closes down."