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Heart Less

When Tenet Healthcare Corp. bought Inglewood’s two major hospitals — Daniel Freeman Memorial and Centinela — in 2001, local health advocates became uneasy about the future of both. Tenet is California’s largest hospital owner that has grown famous for putting profit and corporate efficiency ahead of patient needs; the battle to keep the doors open at Daniel Freeman hospital in Marina del Rey, another one of Tenet’s acquisitions, was hard fought. Now another shoe has dropped at the Inglewood Daniel Freeman with the news that the hospital will be closing its heart-patient clinics on Friday, a move critics say undermines both patient needs and an agreement Tenet made back in 2001 to confer with community members about any planned changes.

Fueling the indignation is the worry of losing outpatient heart programs that are crucial to the health of its clients and especially of African-Americans, who suffer disproportionately from heart disease. Daniel Freeman’s heart programs have three components: cardiac rehabilitation, congestive-heart-failure clinic and a fitness center. Though surgical procedures will still be performed at nearby Centinela, outpatient and rehab services will no longer be available in Inglewood.

“We’ve been trying to reduce health disparities in the African-American communities, and this doesn’t exactly help,” says Joyce Jones Guinyard of the Community Health Councils, a nonprofit health advocacy and policy organization. “A big part of that disparity is a lack of access. We have fewer outlets, and those outlets are decreasing.”

Guinyard was part of a rally and prayer vigil the CHC staged in front of Daniel Freeman Memorial on Tuesday. A group of about 30 clergy, community members and heart-clinic patients gathered on Prairie Avenue near Centinela to protest the cut, which they say also violates an agreement Tenet made with the state attorney general when it purchased Daniel Freeman to involve local health-care advocates in ongoing planning. Tenet maintains it has done that with two community meetings it held over the last two years regarding the closure of the heart clinics, but Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of CHC, dismisses those meetings as pro forma affairs that were stacked with politicians and bureaucrats, with community health advocates notably absent. “And anyway, they didn’t discuss anything, they just told everybody what they were going to do,” she added.

In a recent letter to Galloway-Gilliam, Tenet CEO Harris F. Koenig cited ongoing financial pressures in the health-care industry and the need to eliminate services at its hospitals that were determined not to be “core areas” of need. Koenig said Tenet was exploring ways to preserve the clinic’s services — placing its congestive-heart-failure clinic with a tax-exempt operator or marketing the fitness center to private companies like health spas. Critics are skeptical of Tenet’s commitment, and hope next to persuade state Attorney General Bill Lockyer to intervene to keep the heart clinics going. (Tenet is also under federal and state investigation for overbilling Medicare and performing unnecessary heart procedures at some locations, including Centinela.)

Father Patrick Gorman, a recent cardiac patient at Daniel Freeman and former pastor at St. Bernadette’s Catholic Church in Baldwin Hills, says he is concerned less about himself than about the many people who currently utilize the clinic’s services, some of whom were his parishioners. “There’s an awful lot of elderly people using the fitness center alone,” he said. “Where are they going to go?”