130 patients must find a newBy Helen Altonn
home as the entire program ends
May 30, for 'purely financial' reasons
About 130 patients who use The Queen's Medical Center's cardiac rehabilitation unit learned this week from a notice posted on the board that it is closing May 30.
The center announced Tuesday it plans to lay off 64 workers and cut costs by $7.5 million this year because of reduced Medicare reimbursements.
Linda Fukuhara, coordinator of the cardiac rehabilitation unit, confirmed reports that the entire program is being eliminated, including inpatient and outpatient services. "It's purely financial," she said.
"We've downsized a lot, so what we have left is three staff members," she said. "We are encouraged to look for other positions within the organization."
About 100 patients go to the unit for exercise in a maintenance program and 30 others are new patients, she said.
Bob Spangler, 72, has been going to the unit since April 1993, when he transferred from Castle Medical Center's cardiac rehab unit. He had a bypass operation for five blockages in April 1989.
"I've always tried to emphasize to people that we're (cardiac patients) like a bunch of alcoholics; we're never going to be whole again," he said. "You have to take care of yourself. That's where the exercise program comes in.
"I want to see my (three) grandchildren grow up, so that's why I've been dedicated."
Cardiac rehabilitation specialists feel three days should be a minimum for maintenance, Spangler said. The Queen's cardiac rehab unit was open three days a week until two years ago when it was reduced to twice a week..
Fukuhara said the program goes beyond exercise. It also covers nutrition and stress management and teaches cardiac patients how to take their own blood pressure and monitor themselves.
Those using the facility develop support and camaraderie, she said. "That's an ingredient that's not measured in most places. They find it very powerful. They have a lot of friendships. They draw strength from one another because they're sharing common experiences."
Fukuhara said the staff is trying to help the patients find other resources, but few are available.
Castle has a small program, but St. Francis Medical Center may be able to accommodate some people, she said.
"We can go to a fitness center or the YMCA," Spangler said. But patients are monitored in the hospital cardiac rehab programs, he said. "You're not going to get that in a fitness center or the YMCA. You'll be strictly on your own."