Western Medical Center Anaheim to Shut Down Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; Nurses, Premature Babies Outraged

Integrated Healthcare Holdings Inc. is no stranger to our pages, mostly because of its cutthroat business operations and corrupt management.

In November, 2011 a Santa Ana-based law firm sued a majority stakeholder in IHHI, Kali P. Chaudhuri, for engaging in fraud and racketeering on Riverside County physicians. A few years before that in 2009 IHHI's tustin-based medical lender company, Medical Capital Holdings Inc., faced a lawsuit for embezzlement. And in 2007, IHHI sued one of its own, Dr. Michael Fitzgibbons, for slander, because he sent an email to colleagues surmising that IHHI would default on a $50 million loan; a judge later dismissed the suit.

Now, IHHI is going after premature babies.

Tomorrow, they're scheduled to shutdown its neonatal intensive care unit at Western Medical Center Anaheim. The move has sparked outrage among the unit's nurses, partly because it will result in the layoffs of 15 specialized NICU nurses, but mostly because it'll prove a crippling loss to the working-class neighborhood. Last Thursday, nurses held a vigil in protest of the planned closure; a press release for the vigil stated that nurses care for 10-20 critically ill babies per month at Western Medical, and that most of their patients come from "poor and immigrant communities with many covered by MediCal."

RN Marissa Gutierrez expressed her concern at the hospital's decision in the press release.

"We service lower-income patients and there are a lot of unexpected outcomes," she said. "This is highly skilled work. Intubating the tiniest babies, properly starting an IV with only tiny IV's to work with and diagnosing issues like meconium aspiration syndrome takes training and experience."

Hospital administrators met with nurses in late February, notifying them that they needed to shut down the 5-bed NICU to save money—and that's about it.

In a vague statement released last Tuesday, the hospital said that "beginning April 1, 2012, we will be transitioning the neonatal intensive care unit at Western Medical Center Anaheim to a nearby hospital; this will integrate a higher level of care for our community and the patients we serve." IHHI didn't respond to questions on the details of that transition or even the hospital as of press time, although its other hospitals in Orange County, Chapman Medical Center in Orange and Coastal Communities Hospital in Santa Ana, don't have such units, either. Their Western Medical Center Santa Ana hasn't made any indication that it's closing its NICU unit.

According to NICU nurses, however, that transition consists of training delivery nurses or pospartum nurses to take care of newborns in need of critical intensive care through lectures. A NICU nurse who has worked at the hospital for the past 6 years says that training other nurses in that matter is insufficient.

"Everyone in the NICU unit has more than ten years of experience," the nurse said, herself racking in 25 years on the job (she requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by IHHI). "You have to deal with life or death. You can't learn how to do everything we do through a couple lectures."

The hospital also told nurses that it will transport critically ill babies to the NICU unit at the UC Irvine Douglas Hospital or Children's Hospital of Orange County. To that, the nurse said Western Medical is putting sick babies in "very unsafe circumstances."

"How can they depend on the UCI or CHOC team to come in a couple minutes?" the nurse asked.

As of now, she says that most of the other RN's are looking for jobs at neonatal intensive care units in other hospitals, but that's proving difficult in a faltering economy.


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