August 19, 2008
Study Looks at Urgent Care Feasibility
By Janette Williams
PASADENA - In a second bid to fast-track an urgent care medical center in East Pasadena and relieve growing pressure on Huntington Hospital's emergency room, the city's Public Health Department plans to present a feasibility study to the City Council on Sept. 8.
Before allocating the $500,000 that city staff requested to immediately start planning the conversion of city-owned buildings at 3160 E. Del Mar Blvd., the council wants to see a report commissioned a couple of years ago by Huntington Hospital.
"We're hoping the Huntington Hospital will share the information," Dr. Takashi Wada, director of the city's health department, said Monday. "We still have to ask them if they are willing, since it may contain sensitive or proprietary information."
An executive summary of the report could be enough, he said, to "educate the City Council and the public."
Whatever the site - the former St. Luke Medical Center is also being touted - the need for an alternative to the Huntington's ER, serving the insured and uninsured, is critical, Wada said.
The Del Mar proposal, backed by the health department, the Community Health Alliance of Pasadena, Huntington Hospital and the Huntington Medical Foundation, is the most practical option, Wada said; at an estimated cost of $3.75 million, the 10,092-square-foot building could be adapted and the urgent care open by late 2009, since the city already owns the 7.2-acre site.
"I think everyone recognizes the need for urgent care in Pasadena, and there are very few options available," Wada said. "The health department conducted a strategic planning process a couple of years ago throughout Pasadena, interviewing 1,000 individuals - residents, nonprofits and health-care providers - and access to health care and urgent care was one of the top priorities."
Steve Ralph, Huntington Hospital's president and chief executive, said Huntington will provide $1.4 million to help underwrite a new urgent care to "take the burden" off his hospital.
Since so many local ERs have closed, he said, Huntington visits went from 30,000 in 1990 to 65,000 last year - and projections were for up to 80,000 visits annually within the next several years.
A separate $500,000 grant awarded to the Community Health Alliance by L.A. Care Health Plan could pass its deadline if swift action on a site is not taken, the City Council heard at its Aug. 11 meeting.
St. Luke, which was sold by Caltech to developers DS Ventures 10 months ago, could still be a "viable option" for an urgent care center, Councilman Steve Haderlein said Monday.
"But a lot of variables go into that becoming a reality," said Haderlein, whose district includes the St. Luke campus. "The developers have yet to submit an application, and I have no idea what they are experiencing in today's financing market."
Wada said the city has been trying to contact the developers, adding that St. Luke could be "a valuable resource," even as a second urgent care.
"It's understandable people want to see it preserved as a health- care entity," Wada said. "But we haven't done any formal assessments ... We would really need to speak to the developer, and still a lot of evaluation and analysis would have to go forward if we're looking at a viable option."
Concerned neighbors in the Eaton Blanche area near the Del Mar buildings, now being used by the Police Department, may misunderstand what an urgent care center would bring, Wada said.
"Some people think it's the same as an ER, open 24 hours, seven days a week," he said, adding that the proposed facility would care only for people with non-emergencies, such as ear infections or sprained ankles.
"We'd be open in the evenings and during some hours over the weekend," Wada said. "But there would be no ambulances with sirens coming at all hours."
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