Olympia Medical Center may yet stay open to help cope with pandemic, city official says

Olympia Medical Center may yet stay open to help cope with pandemic, city official says

The new owner of Olympia Medical Center in Mid-Wilshire — which announced suddenly on New Year’s Eve that it would close its doors in March, setting off alarms in the pandemic-plagued community — would allow the previous owner to keep the hospital open amid the coronavirus surge, at least through the end of the year.

UCLA Health, which recently purchased the 204-bed facility, has leased back the property to its previous owner Alecto Healthcare for the rest of the year, according to city officials. That could allow the hospital to continue to treat an overflow of COVID-19 patients.

  • Olympia Medical Center at 5900 W. Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles on January 20, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Olympia Medical Center at 5900 W. Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles on January 20, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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  • Olympia Medical Center at 5900 W. Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles on January 20, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Shenita Anderson, an emergency room nurse at Olympia Medical Center in mid-Wilshire speaks on Jan. 19 at a virtual conference organized by the National Nurses United.

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A representative for Councilwoman Nithya Raman, whose district includes the hospital, wrote in an email that “UCLA has informed us that it has leased back the property for the remainder of the year, thereby providing Alecto the ability to keep Olympia Medical Center open beyond its announced closure on March 31.”

Raman’s spokesman Jesse Zwick added that the councilwoman’s office has reached out to Alecto to “reiterate our strong support for no reduction in overall emergency services capacity in Los Angeles while COVID-19 is surging and ICU capacity in hospitals is at zero.”

UCLA Health has “provided Alecto with the ability to keep Olympia Medical Center’s doors open to help manage the current surge in COVID-19 patients,” wrote UCLA spokesman Enrique Rivero in an email. “Additionally, we are encouraged by the ongoing dialogue between Alecto and L.A. County (Emergency Medical Services), including ensuring the hospital is adequately staffed for services.”

It’s not yet certain if it’s a done deal, however. A UCLA spokesperson said they believed the hospital would remain open, but Alecto Healthcare Executive Vice President Michael Sarrao could not be reached for comment on Wednesday despite multiple attempts. Zwick said the councilwoman’s office had not gotten confirmation.

Whatever happens this year, the 74-year-old site will have a new mission in years to come, officials said. UCLA Health confirmed it recently purchased the site and will “be launching an initial planning process for a state-of-the-art major facility renovation of the former Olympia Campus. The initial plans will include exploration of inpatient and outpatient mental health services – a dire and unmet need in Los Angeles County with few and shrinking providers of inpatient care,” according to the statement.

Many would like to see the site remain a full-service hospital, however.

Nurse Shanita Anderson, who works in the emergency department at Olympia, said she was surprised when she saw a public notice posted in the hospital on New Year’s Eve that the facility would close by the end of March and lay off its staff.

“There’s a lot of people in the community that depend on Olympia,” she said, adding that only since July, her team has treated more than 2,000 people. “We build rapport with our community.”

Many of the hospital’s patients are low-income and unhoused. Nearly 40% of all the patients they admit are African-Americans and about 60% of patients were over the age of 60. Last year, the hospital recorded more than 25,000 emergency room visits. About 60% of the hospital admitted in 2020 patients were covered by Medicare and almost 30% were covered by Medi-Cal, according to California Nurses Association, which represents 200 nurses from the Mid-Wilshire facility.

The issue arose as officials around the county are scrambling to free beds and find additional personnel to treat COVID patients as Los Angeles County’s intensive care unit capacity remains at zero.

Alecto Healthcare notified its staff last month that it would “suspend all patient care services, including the emergency department and all emergency medical services” starting March 31.

Nearly 450 full-time and part-time employees would lose their jobs as a result of the closure, according to the hospital’s website. UCLA vowed, however, that the site’s new mission would include many new medical-industry jobs.

During a press convergence hosted by California Nurses Association on Tuesday, Jan. 19, Nurse Mackenzie Bogan called the closing of the hospital in the time of the pandemic “unconscionable.”

“If we don’t do anything about it, we can be considered just as heartless,” she said.

Kari Garcia from the Miracle Mile Residential Association echoed Anderson’s concerns during the press conference, noting that the residents from the surrounding neighborhood rely heavily on the hospital, adding that its closure remains “a big concern” and “disservice to all those who are sick now.”

Anderson said she hoped the hospital would remain open — at least until the end of the pandemic.

Some of her patients depend on the hospital’s emergency room as a part of their primary care, she added, and “even more so in the middle of a pandemic because their doctors are no longer seeing patients.”

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