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VALLEY HOSPITAL TO CLOSE ITS DOORS VAN NUYS CAMPUS WILL BE SHUTTERED.

Byline: Evan Pondel Staff Writer

VAN NUYS - Northridge Hospital Medical Center's Sherman Way campus, an aging 209-bed acute-care facility losing more than $1 million a month, will close by year's end, administrators said Thursday.

The hospital has 830 employees and its owner, San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West wants to sell the seven-acre facility and plans call for transferring patients to Valley Presbyterian Hospital, which is slightly more than a mile away.

David Fleming, chairman of Valley Presbyterian Hospital, said Selleck Properties plans to buy the campus for more than $10 million but has not decided what to do with it yet. Dan Selleck, a developer who is on the Valley Presbyterian board of directors, did not return calls.

Once known as Valley Hospital, and later as Valley Receiving, the Sherman Way facility has served Van Nuys for 75 years, providing care to about 45,000 patients a year. But a burgeoning uninsured population and low reimbursements proved too costly for it to continue operating.

``There is a severe health care crisis in Los Angeles, and we are in the eye of the storm,'' said Jerry Conway, president of the campus.

Approximately 250 babies are born every month at the facility to parents without health insurance. At the same time, about 85 percent of the patients are on Medi-Cal, California's health care system for the poor. Conway said as an employee of the hospital for six years, serving an indigent population has been emotionally challenging.

``Obviously, the staff and doctors here believe it's a noble cause. But with economies of scale and an increase in patient volume, we cannot afford to operate under these conditions.''

The hospital also needs more than $16 million in seismic retrofitting.

Fleming said Valley Presbyterian expects to provide care to many of the patients who went to the Sherman Way facility.

``For 35 years, it has been our position that the hospitals should function as one. This is a natural progression.''

Fleming said the extra patients will help the 290-bed Valley Presbyterian facility improve its own ailing bottom line by adding several million dollars in reimbursements a year. Valley Presbyterian also plans to purchase the shuttered hospital's medical equipment for $1.5 million.

``We'll have plenty of room for the patients. And it will help us keep our facilities alive. We also plan to hire more staff to meet the increase in patient load.''

Valley Presbyterian has not been immune to rising health care costs. The hospital has lost several million dollars in recent years, with a newly constructed 127,250-square-foot building creating an even greater financial challenge.

Fleming said the new acute-care facility has remained inoperative for several months due to pending permits.

Until the new building is able to receive patients, Valley Presbyterian will have to depend on existing facilities to take on extra patients.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky would not comment on Valley Presbyterian's alliance with Catholic Healthcare West. However, he did say in an e-mailed statement that the closure of the Van Nuys facility would burden the entire county for years ahead.

``And the sad and incontrovertible fact is that throughout our region, hospital and emergency room capacity is plummeting,'' the statement said. ``This is a national problem, and our national leaders both in the executive and legislative branch need to address it immediately. Our capacity as a society to provide hospital care ... is being compromised before our very eyes.''

Evan Pondel, (818) 713-3662

evan.pondel(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 20, 2004
Words:589
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