As reported in the news of the OC Register, the families of more than 20 severely disabled children in limbo since April at Newport Specialty Hospital in Tustin have learned that their struggle to keep the facility open has ended – and not in the way they had hoped.
Pacific Health Corp., which owns the hospital, has decided to shut it down after all, only two weeks after raising the hopes of parents by telling them there was a buyer. The buyer was supposed to be a group previously affiliated with the company, which would not only keep the hospital open but also expand its long-term pediatric ward. However, that deal appears to have fallen through.
The plan now is for some or all of the children to be transferred in stages to a newly renovated unit at West Anaheim Medical Center, which has 22 beds – about the number of children currently housed in Newport Specialty. Another facility, All Saints Healthcare in North Hollywood, has also indicated that it has beds available, according to some of the parents of Newport patients. But it is much farther away, and not likely to be the first choice of many families.
Parents who attended a meeting Friday evening with Newport representatives said they were told that licensing inspectors from the California Department of Public Health would visit the West Anaheim unit as early as Monday. Assuming it gets the state’s approval, West Anaheim will accept five Newport patients at first, they said.
The department’s inspectors would then visit the facility again before authorizing it to accept more of the children. It is expected to take at least a month before all of the Newport patients can be accommodated, the parents said. Delicia McFarland, whose 18-year-old son, Allen, suffers from brain damage caused by a tumor, expressed concern that Newport could be closed before West Anaheim can take all the kids.
Department spokesman Corey Egel confirmed that the inspectors were scheduled to visit the West Anaheim unit on Tuesday.
The reason for limiting the number of patients transferred to West Anaheim initially is that “they want to make sure everything is proceeding smoothly and safely” rather than “overwhelming (the new unit) and instantly filling it,” said Peter Himber, chief medical officer of the Regional Center of Orange. The center is a state-funded nonprofit that serves as an advocate for the families of the children at Newport and as their liaison with the hospital.
West Anaheim Medical Center declined to comment on the timing of any transfer of the pediatric patients from Newport Specialty or even on whether there was a concrete plan to receive them. But the hospital’s chief executive officer, Virg Narbutas, confirmed renovation of the pediatric unit has been completed and that the facility is ready to provide care for the children.
“We are awaiting the arrival and guidance of the California Department of Public Health,” he said.
For the parents, whose children have severe brain injuries and other traumas that force them to eat and breathe through tubes, the latest turn of events is mixed. Many of them have spent hours at Newport Specialty virtually every day for the past several years, and they have come to regard the nurses and other health-care workers there as a second family. They also fear that it will be difficult for their children to adjust to an entirely new environment.
At the same time, however, the possibility of keeping their kids in Orange County is a great relief to families who have lived with tremendous uncertainty, wondering whether they would have to send them to far-flung places in San Bernardino or San Diego.
“My biggest fear was that we would have to relocate far from home. I’m glad West Anaheim is able to take us,” said Camille Tiu, whose 8-year old son, Darren, suffers from severely debilitating cerebral palsy. On the other hand, Newport Specialty “is the only place my son has ever been and ever lived. For us to have to move him without having a choice really hurts.”
Joshua Kinder, whose 3-year-old son, Jak, suffered brain damage after his heart stopped beating for several minutes a couple of years ago, said he will send his child to West Anaheim because it is so much closer than other facilities. He expressed concern that the hospital was a newcomer to the long-term care of children.
However, the hospital will have help from a source that is likely to reassure the Newport families. Narbutas confirmed that West Anaheim has already hired some of the caregivers from Newport Specialty. So when the kids arrive in the new unit at West Anaheim, it may already feel a little bit like home.
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