Posted on August 16, 2004

Landmark East L.A. Hospital Is Closed by Bankruptcy Judge

Steve Hymon and Regine Labossiere, L. A. Times, Aug. 14

A federal bankruptcy judge Friday ordered the closure of Elastar Community Hospital in East Los Angeles despite last-minute pleas by politicians and employees of the 80-year-old landmark that has long served Latino immigrants.

The loss of Elastar is expected to be another blow to the emergency healthcare system in Los Angeles County. The hospital’s emergency room treated about 13,000 patients annually, and now those patients must go to other hospitals where long delays for emergency care are common.

Elastar is the third hospital with an emergency room to close in the county this year, joining Santa Teresita in Duarte and Century City Hospital in West Los Angeles. “We cannot stand any more closures in an emergency system capacity in Los Angeles — this system is on the brink of absolute chaos,” said Jim Lott, the executive vice president of the Hospital Assn. of Southern California. “Eventually, people are going to start to die. That’s basically what it amounts to.”

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Nearly all of Elastar’s patients were Latino, according to hospital officials, who said that illegal immigrants in particular felt safe coming there. Although hospitals must treat anyone who walks into their emergency rooms regardless of citizenship, officials said that some undocumented workers shun the healthcare system for fear of encountering immigration officials.

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On Jan. 1, a new state law took effect that required hospitals to beef up their nursing staffs to lower the ratio of nurses to patients. The other problem, hospital officials said, is that about one-third of the hospital’s patients had no health insurance and that many more were recipients of Medicare or Medicaid. That, they said, made it difficult to recoup the hospital’s costs to treat them.