Pacific Health Corporation shutters three of its hospitals

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The Pacific Health Corporation is shutting down three of its hospitals, Bellflower Medical Center, Newport Specialty Hospital, and the L.A. and Hawthorne campuses of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center. 

The Tustin-based company closed the hospitals' emergency rooms Wednesday, and will shut them down entirely once all patients have been transferred.

In a statement, a spokesman for the company said legal expenses were forcing its hand.

Last month, the California Department of Industrial Relations fined Pacific Health more than $7 million for failing to pay employees and bouncing paychecks.

Last summer, the Justice Department announced Pacific Health had agreed to a $16.5 million  dollar settlement for allegedly participating in an illegal kickback scheme. Federal prosecutors say the hospitals bilked the system by recruiting homeless people from L.A.’s Skid Row as patients to charge Medicare and Medi-Cal for unnecessary care. A Pacific Health subsidiary, Los Angeles Doctors Hospital, pleaded guilty to conspiracy as part of the settlement.

At the Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center on Western Avenue Wednesday, a woman arrived with her injured 9 year-old son and was surprised to find out that it's shutting down.  

"It’s urgent care, it’s emergency," the woman said. "We live in this area so it’s convenient for us; [her son] hurt his leg so we were trying to get an x-ray to make sure he didn’t break anything.”

The closures will have a ripple effect, said Annie Park, a policy director at the nonprofit Community Health Councils in South LA..

“Whenever a hospital closes that serves a proportion of uninsured or underinsured patients, we always worry about where these patients are going to go and what’s going to happen to them,” Park said.

The three hospitals that are closing provide more than 500 patient beds. A Pacific Health spokesman said 1300 workers could be laid off.