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California Burn Centers Spreading Care

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, September 21, 2009

Suburban Los Angeles' Grossman Burn Centers is launching a controversial expansion trajectory to bring its brand of burn care 100 miles away to Bakersfield, and 1,800 miles away to Lafayette, LA, this fall.

And, while they're at it, Grossman hopes to add to two to four more burn units in hospitals in the next two to four years, says business development director, Roy Forbes.

"There's about 130 burn centers in the country, but their numbers are dwindling, because they're usually loss leaders, centers that require public subsidy or a university or municipal backing," Forbes says.  "We're definitely going against trend."

Grossman Burn Centers, a for-profit venture, is able to get around the losing aspect of burn care by treating burns quickly, and by insisting on working only in hospitals that have dedicated units to provide surgical and other care as soon as possible, Forbes says.  Its affiliated surgeons are specialists in plastic surgery for burns as well, he says.

For the last 11 years, Grossman has also operated another seven beds at 283-bed Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, CA, and plans to remain.

But two months ago, Grossman opened a four-bed unit at 255-bed San Joaquin Community Hospital in Bakersfield.

And in October, it plans to open six burn beds at 267-bed Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, LA.

At the same time, Grossman is transferring its entire 30-bed burn unit from Sherman Oaks Medical Center, where it has operated for the last 40 years, to a 212-bed West Hills Hospital in West Hills, which is 13 miles away.

Prime Health Services, which purchased 153-bed Sherman Oaks a couple of years ago, has a business model that focuses on the emergency room, Forbes says. "They don't want to be in the burn business." So Grossman is moving on.

Forbes says the business model is to contract with hospitals to either take over their burn units or create a new burn unit business within the hospital's existing license.  Patients are stabilized in the hospital's emergency room or trauma center, sometimes at another facility, and then transferred to the Grossman surgical units.

Forbes explains that many hospitals are closing their units because "they aren't making money.  In the last five years, there have been perhaps 25 burn centers around the country" that have closed down.

His efforts are preventing more units from closing down, he says.

But business models like Grossman's are not without controversy.  Some burn specialists around the country say they worry that operations like Grossman's, which don't undergo verification credentialing by the American Burn Association and American College of Surgeons, may siphon off profitable burns and leave the unprofitable ones to others.

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