Oct 2, 2006
Freeman Memorial hospital in Inglewood, near Los Angeles, announced that it’s closing its emergency room.
It’s not that the mostly working-class community in that area no longer needs this service – Memorial’s ER treated about 38,000 patients last year alone. But the company that owns the hospital says it’s closing the ER because, taken by itself, the ER is losing money.
Memorial is not alone. This will be the tenth ER that L.A. County has lost in the last five years. Companies blame a federal law – which forbids ER’s to turn patients away because of inability to pay – for these closures.
In fact, the law does allow hospitals to turn ER patients away – if the ER is full. And, obviously, the more ER’s are closed, the more the remaining ER’s will be full and send patients away.
But this means that some patients, who are in a critical condition, will die looking for an ER. And they will have died for one reason only: so that a few “investors” can make more money!
Memorial hospital is typical of this trend in the health care industry. In 2001, Memorial was bought by Tenet, one of the biggest for-profit hospital chains in the U.S., along with two other hospitals in the area. Then, in 2004, Tenet sold the hospitals to Centinela Freeman, a so-called “investment group” formed by managers of the three hospitals. These investors now say they have to close Memorial’s ER, and possibly other parts of the hospital too, so that they can pay off their high-interest loans – the same loans they took out in order to buy the hospitals in the first place!
This pattern has been repeating itself, over and over, all over the country. Studies conducted after 9/11 have found that, today, no major U.S. city has the emergency and trauma care capacity to handle a major epidemic, natural disaster or anything else that could sicken or injure a large number of people at the same time.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, for it’s exactly how capitalism is supposed to work: the profit of a few “investors” is supposed to be more important than the needs of the whole society.