"Hospital ward's closure forces dire decisions"
The Orange County Register
Patients in subacute unit in Laguna Beach will have to be moved 30 miles from their loved ones.
By COURTNEY PERKES
The Orange County Register
Friday, February 13, 2009
Richard Thompson, a retired dentist, drives three miles every day to visit his son at South Coast Medical Center, where he sings Lawrence Welk songs with him and brushes his teeth.
His son, Bobby, has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old, breathes with a ventilator and eats through a feeding tube. He asks nurses for his father every morning, and they assure him he'll be coming.
But soon, Richard fears those visits won't be so easy. He was notified last week that the Laguna Beach hospital will close the unprofitable subacute ward, forcing his son and 20 other patients to move to hospitals or nursing homes miles away or in Los Angeles County.
"I'm 81 and not really one who should be driving the freeways everyday, but I will if that's what I have to do," Thompson said. "He really suffers when I'm not around. They tell me at the hospital that he'll say, 'Dad' all morning long."
Thompson and other families received notice shortly before an announcement that Mission Hospital would purchase South Coast for $35.7 million. The sale of the nonprofit hospital must be approved by the state attorney general's office. The families say they plan to fight the closure by lobbying the state as well as Mission, which is owned by St. Joseph Health System.
Officials at both hospitals said the closure of the subacute unit has nothing to do with the sale.
South Coast spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez said costs of hospital expenses had been under review for a year, long before the hospital was put on the market. She said 80 percent of subacute patients are covered by state Medi-Cal and many hospitals have stopped offering long-term care.
For years, Adventist Health-owned South Coast has been losing money and closed the maternity ward last year.
"This was a unit they've been looking at for awhile," Gonzalez said. "It just did not make sense to continue."
Several relatives of displaced patients said doctors have told them they need more specialized care than a nursing home can provide. The nearest options are Chapman Medical Center, 24 miles away in Orange or Kindred Hospital, 38 miles away in Brea.
Bill Moseley said his 74-year-old father is still alive after a car accident eight years ago because of access to the hospital's operating room and intensive care unit.
"His nurses all say if he wasn't in a hospital, he'd be dead," Moseley said. "Our dad had a couple life-threatening episodes, but because he was in the hospital here he was able to get the right care he needed."
Others are still reeling from the notification.
"It was a total shock because there had been no discussion or indication that anything like that was being considered," said Wally Schminke, 82, who visits his wife, Corinne, twice a day. "It will cut my visits to one a day, for sure. To me, it's just incredible there would be no facility in such a populous area as South Orange County."
Schminke of San Clemente said his wife suffered a stroke three years ago that left her bedridden and breathing with a tracheotomy. He reads her horoscope from the newspaper, articles from fashion magazines and comics. She can't speak, but when her children and grandchildren visit, her face lights up.
"It's going to diminish the amount of visits. Those are important for her morale," he said.
Yvonne Toppses will celebrate her husband Tony's 42nd birthday Saturday at South Coast with cupcakes for nurses, movie rentals and a phone call from his parents in New York. Tony, a former biomedical engineer, has spent two years there because of multiple sclerosis.
Toppses, who lives in Aliso Viejo, quit her job and spends every day keeping her husband company. She hasn't told him yet about the pending move because she doesn't want to depress him.
"They're saying this closure isn't contingent on the sale, but obviously the numbers look much better on paper after a closure," she said. "This is against the mission statements for both Adventist and St. Joe's."