"Families desperate for options as long-term care facility closes"
The Stockton Record
By Daniel Thigpen
Record Staff Writer
March 07, 2008 6:00 AM
LODI - Stockton resident Kim Nguyen visits her daughter Jasmine twice a day at Lodi Memorial Hospital's long-term care unit, once before work and once after.
This has been her daughter's home for more than eight years, after an unexplained high fever cut off oxygen to her brain and left her in a vegetative state.
On Thursday afternoon, Nguyen and her younger daughter, Mary, came back to the Lodi facility, but this time it was to begin figuring out whether they will have to move Jasmine - and the rest of the family in Stockton - somewhere else.
Hospital executives last month told the families of the 13 patients at the facility that the hospital no longer will serve seriously disabled patients, those such as Jasmine who are often on life support or use feeding tubes and need years of care.
The thought of relocating has left families such as the Nguyens overwhelmed with anxiety.
"It's kind of disrupting our way of life," said Mary Nguyen, fighting back tears outside the Lower Sacramento Road facility. "We can't give up what we have here."
Hospital officials say the beds are needed to ease overcrowding throughout the rest of the hospital. Lodi Memorial has not yet given families written notice, and the state must review the hospital's plan to relocate patients.
Once Lodi Memorial gives written notice - sometime later this month, hospital spokeswoman Carol Farron said - family members can appeal the hospital's decision.
"It's like being told, 'You're being fired and thrown out of your house sometime, but we don't know when,' " said George Lerner, the Port of Stockton police chief whose stepdaughter, Andrea Rodriguez, has been a patient at the Lodi facility for more than four years for treatment of her degenerative muscular disease.
Farron said the hospital chose earlier this year not to renew the Medi-Cal contract that pays for the long-term care branch, which opened in 1993, so that the beds could be used for shorter-term patients being transitioned out of the hospital, such as after-surgery or intensive-care stays. That contract expires at the end of June.
"It was a really, really tough decision for us," Farron said. "We recognize it's their home, and it's been a family to us."
The facility faced closure in 2003 after the Department of Health Services attempted to cancel the Medi-Cal contract because of circumstances surrounding the death of a patient a year earlier. The state reversed course after hospital workers, family members and a patient advocate group protested.
That group, the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, criticized hospital administrators at the time for not doing enough to fight the contract termination, perhaps hoping to close the unit.
On Thursday, the group's executive director blasted Lodi Memorial's proposed closing and said it would force patients farther from their families and jeopardize their health. "I find it to be just a terrible thing," Patricia McGinnis said. "This is their home, and many of them have been there for years."
McGinnis also questioned the legality of forcing patients out based on a space shortage at the hospital. State officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Farron acknowledged that the closest facilities that provide comparable service and that are accepting patients are in the Bay Area and Fresno, but she said the hospital will work with families to relocate all the patients. She also said most of the patients and their families are not from Lodi or San Joaquin County, although she could not provide specifics.
Lerner, who lives in Linden, and the Nguyens said most patients' families live in Lodi, Stockton, Sacramento or elsewhere nearby. "They're all local families," Lerner said.
On Thursday, several family members met with a county official to discuss their options. They have few until Lodi Memorial provides written notice.
Still, Lerner and the Nguyens praised the hospital and its staff - whose jobs Farron said won't be affected - for the quality of service provided to their loved ones.
"We mean no harm to the hospital," Lerner said. "This is just a bad management decision."
Contact reporter Daniel Thigpen at (209) 367-7427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.