L.A. County Clinic to Remain Open

Los Angeles County officials approve a settlement to keep the Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center open. The unique medical facility was on the verge of closing as part of a cost-cutting plan until a federal judge intervened, saying the center provides poor, disabled people with vital services.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It looks like one of the top rehab hospitals in the country will stay open. Two years ago, the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center was slated to close. It's located in Downey, California, just east of Los Angeles. Rancho Los Amigos is part of the LA County health-care system, and the county said it didn't have the money to keep the center open. This week, the county settled a lawsuit brought by patients' rights groups, and as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, that appears to have saved the hospital.

INA JAFFE reporting:

Rancho Los Amigos has been recognized as an innovative rehabilitation hospital since the polio epidemic of the 1950s. Now it treats patients with spinal cord and brain injuries, strokes and a host of other conditions that threaten their ability to live independently. But in 2003, the County Board of Supervisors believed that the only way to save the county health-care system--its general hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms--was to close down Rancho Los Amigos. At the time, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said there seemed to be no other choice.

Mr. ZEV YAROSLAVSKY (LA County Supervisor): Because the demand for County of Los Angeles health-care services exceeds the supply of those services by about $3/4 billion worth. The number of uninsured in Los Angeles County is two and a half million people. If the uninsured of this county were their own county, they'd be the third largest county in America.

JAFFE: But the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, along with other legal and community organizations, sued the county to stop Rancho Los Amigos from closing. Legal Aid senior attorney Silvia Argueta says that the county had an obligation to this most vulnerable group of patients.

Ms. SILVIA ARGUETA (Senior Attorney, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles): These are poor people, indigent clients, who rely on the county health-care system for their medical needs. They have nowhere else to turn.

JAFFE: A federal court agreed, granting an injunction that's kept the hospital open the past couple of years. This week's settlement with the county will reduce the number of inpatient beds but maintain all the core medical services. Meanwhile, the county will try to find another health-care provider to take over Rancho Los Amigos. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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