Los Angeles

Worry Over Hospital's Uncertain Future

Financial difficulties and the falter of a planned sale have many in the hospital community worried about what will happen next.

St. Francis Medical Center serves a million residents of Southeast Los Angeles.

It's also home to one of the busiest emergency and trauma centers in Los Angeles County, but the Lynwood hospital is also part of a financially troubled network with an uncertain future.

That is leaving many affiliated with the hospital worried about what will happen to the much-needed facility, despite assurances from Daughters of Charity that it will not close.

"Without us here, I think this community would be severely affected," said Dr. Tchaka Shephard, medical director of the trauma center.

Colleagues agreed.

"We saw more than 82,000 patients last year in our emergency dept. We are the hub for emergency care for the whole community," said Dr. Clayton Kazan, medical director of the emergency department.

St. Francis is one of six California hospitals owned by the Daughters of Charity Health System, which primarily serves the poor. Last year, it lost $130 million and decided selling the hospitals was the best way to avoid bankruptcy. A deal with Ontario-based Prime Healthcare fell through earlier this week.

"Certainly it's not the outcome we wanted but we're poised to regroup, meet with our board and to look at next steps," said Gerald Kozai, president and chief executive of St. Francis Medical Center.

Those next steps remain unclear, but Kozai was clear about one thing.

"St. Francis Medical Center will not shut down," he said.

But if Daughters of Charity declares bankruptcy, staff and services could be cut, which concerns those who work every day to help those most in need.

"The nearest trauma center is Harbor UCLA south of us several miles and if someone was critically injured, there would not be enough time to make it there and survive." Shephard said.

The LA County Department of Health Services did a study which found that if the trauma center at St. Francis closed, it would pose a substantial stress to surrounding trauma centers and to the Southeast community.

"Seconds for us is life. It's vital. Every moment, every second that we have to help you is a chance we have to save your life," Shephard said.

Time is also of the essence for Daughters of Charity, which said it has difficult decisions to make and will be consulting with advisors in the next few days.

Beth Nikels, spokeswoman for Daughters of Charity, said the financial situation has improved in the past six months and said because of that, the organization is not looking to file bankruptcy any time soon.

She said they are not in danger of closing the center at St. Francis, and the improved financial situation has made it more attractive to potential buyers.

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