Critics claim that the recent purchase of Centinela Hospital needs as much care as the patients in and out do
Health care is one of the burning issues being discussed in the presidential primaries along with the economy, gas prices and Iraq. At the local level, it is also one of the main issues of the second supervisorial race. Along with the status of Martin Luther King Jr. hospital, it is front-and-center. Candidate and 8th District council member, Bernard Parks said, “My number one issue is healthcare,” and has accused his rival, State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, of wavering on healthcare issues specifically as it related to King Hospital. Centinela Hospital—recently purchased by a for-profit company—seems to be emerging as one of the medical facilities in the eye of the healthcare storm.
The healthcare crisis has manifested in the closure of hospitals and clinics, the reduction of medical services and the increasing numbers of uninsured individuals. The constant “evaporation” and “disappearance” of quality medical care for the poor and uninsured—and even some who thought they had health insurance—portray a grim reality for many of the people in Los Angeles and the Southern California region. (It is also a microcosm of a national epidemic).
The recent purchase of Centinela by Prime Healthcare Services (PHS), under the best circumstances, appears to be a “band-aid” solution placed on a “major-surgery” problem—and the circumstances are not the best. The “Sentinel” visited the facility, and spoke at length with Dr. Prem Reddy, founder and chairman of the Board of PHS, and Von L. Crockett, president and CEO of Centinela in order to give a firsthand account of the goals and objectives of the hospital’s new administration.
Dr. Reddy is not only a board-certified physician in internal medicine and cardiology, but he has evolved into becoming, first and foremost, a businessman. He founded Primecare Medical Group Network (PMGN), a physician practice management company and the forerunner of PHS, and the Dr. Prem Reddy School of Health Sciences in Victorville, California. According to PHS, their mission is to provide comprehensive, quality healthcare in a compassionate, convenient and cost-effective manner, and after they bought Centinela, they promised to provide the community a “new and improved experience in medical service and healthcare management by investing in the facility’s improvements and maintaining a commitment to the poor and uninsured. Now six months after the purchase, reviews about the operation and the quality of the services provided, are mixed. Sources say the healthcare oasis Dr. Reddy envisioned has not fully materialized and a desert of rampant healthcare needs have gone unmet and diminished.
In the interview (at Centinela), Dr. Reddy said, “I work very hard and I don’t have any hobbies; this is my hobby. I built a huge practice (in the High Desert/Inland Empire region), but I noticed that the area was under served … not enough hospital beds. I grew up in India and there, many doctors have their own small hospitals, and I wanted to do that here (in California).” The over-riding thrust of Dr. Reddy’s drive to acquire hospitals came from his homeland upbringing and he seemed to have translated that yearning into founding PMGN and PHS.
Mayor Roosevelt Dorn of Inglewood has stated that his experience at Centinela’s emergency room was beyond reproach; he gave the emergency room a passing grade stating, “It appears to have an excellent emergency room program. I say that because I had to take my wife there last week and the people moved quickly. As far as the emergency room, there is no question that there has been progress.”
However, Councilman Daniel Tabor also of Inglewood seems to have a somewhat different view. He said, “It (Centinela) seemed to have lived up to my concerns: reduction of services for patients, loss of jobs for workers and a general lack of quality of patient care. Specifically, he (Dr. Reddy) took on a difficult challenge given the state of healthcare and the broad healthcare crisis. But it is his operation and the challenge is what can he do to turn it around and retain the workers.”
One of the concerns the community has expressed about Dr. Reddy is that in his desire to expand his business (hospital) empire, he seems to place profits ahead of patients (care). At present, PHS reportedly owns and operates twelve hospitals including Centinela, one of the recent purchases of his string of hospitals. Recalling his socialization in India relative to doctors, Dr. Reddy also said, “Somewhere in my mind, I wanted to do that here (build a hospital). During the mid-eighties, many hospitals in California were closing because of HMOs and medicare. Many people I went to did not believe that (building a hospital) was a realistic ambition, but I persisted until I built an 84-bed hospital in Victorville—Desert Valley Hospital.”
But the United Healthcare Workers Union (SEIU) that represents 150,000 healthcare workers statewide does not see PHS in general, or operation at Centinela specifically, in a favorable light. One of union representatives, Richard Thomason, spoke on behalf of SEIU and said, “From our point of view, there were rehabilitation and oncology services being offered at the hospital, before he (Dr. Reddy) bought the hospital, and he eliminated those services. We are very concerned because the community is already underserved. He has cut back on some very important services and has concentrated on admitting patients only through the emergency room.”
Thomason’s assertion appeared to have coincided with Mayor Dorn’s experience and when asked whether or not he believed Dr. Reddy’s actions were shoddy medical practices and/or mis-management, or a strictly-for- profit motivation, Thomason responded, “We question whether financially he needed to cut those services; we believe he should have left them intact. Prime Healthcare is a growing hospital company and we think he could afford to keep services that the community needs. He’s cutting services at Centinela that he doesn’t have to.”
In addition to growing community concerns at Centinela, the overall healthcare crisis at present includes the closure of the Emergency Room (ER) services at Martin Luther King Jr. hospital, (Wilmington); troublesome reports brewing at Harbor UCLA hospital (Torrance); the bankruptcies of Watts Health Foundation/United Health Plan (Watts/Inglewood) and Brotman Medical Center (Culver City); and the (recent and past) closures of Daniel Freeman Hospital (Inglewood) and Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Medical Center in 2004 (Hawthorne).
These are just a few of the more well publicized problem facilities but there are more. When RFK Medical Center closed, its loss was the sixth in Los Angeles County in 2004. At that time, an official at a nearby hospital said, “It won’t be possible for hospitals in RFK’s immediate vicinity to handle their ER volume.”
In the 2007 Joint Commission’s Annual Report on Quality and Safety, it stated, “The report encourages the health care professional community—as well as the media and consumers—to examine the performance of local hospitals and other providers at the joint Commission’s website.” The commission also supports health care organization accountability and continual improvement.