Dayana Carrillo’s world was turned upside down more than a year ago when her son Aaron, nearly 2 1/2, was diagnosed with leukemia.
With the help of chemotherapy and medication, Aaron, now age 3, recovered. From the many days and nights Aaron spent in the hospital, and his continued weekly checkups and treatment, the family has come to trust and depend on the staff at the Pediatric Oncology Unit at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills.
That’s why the Carrillos and other parents are worried this unit may close by the end of the year, something they say they’re hearing although there is no official confirmation from Kaiser officials.
“We’ve heard the nurses talk about it. I asked them and the doctors about it, and they confirmed it,” said Carrillo, a Winnetka resident.
Cynthia Walsh, whose 3 1/2 -year-old son Becket was diagnosed with leukemia at age 10 months, said she heard the same rumor from nurses and her doctor.
She spoke with Gregory Kelman, head of Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills, and Robert Riewerts, head of Pediatrics for the Kaiser Permanente Southern California region. While Kelman denied they were shutting down the unit, Riewerts did note that the plan is for a progressive shut down.
“The plan is to try to keep someone at Woodland Hills, maybe one or two days a week, but they plan to close it,” said Walsh, a Ventura resident.
That might not be the only unit closing in the San Fernando Valley. Another one at the Panorama City hospital could face the same fate. Everything would be consolidated at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center in Hollywood, the parents have learned.
Apart from the travel distance, Walsh said her experience at that location on Sunset Boulevard has not been good.
“As cancer parents, we try to keep things as normal as possible. I can take my son to school in the mornings and go to Woodland Hills in the afternoon. If we have to go all the way to Sunset, the whole day is gone,” Walsh said.
It’s not just the inconvenience, Walsh said. “The care that my son received there is horrible. The head oncologist pretty much said he’s not going to make it the first time we met him. It’s a very negative hospital, and we have a positive thing going at Woodland Hills.
“My son, his doctor and nurses are his family. At Sunset, we just become a number,” she said.
Carrillo said that, in Kaiser’s view, “these children are expensive to them with the chemotherapy, blood drawn and everything. They want to centralize everything. The problem if that happens is the distance. I live in Winnetka, but there are parents also coming from Camarillo, Santa Maria, Antelope Valley. We all are going to have to travel over there.”
Carrillo notes that the layout of operations at the Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles is different from that in Woodland Hills. At the latter, every procedure from lab to treatment is conducted in the same building.
“In Kaiser Sunset, everything is different. You have to go to one building for oncology, and another building for the procedure,” she said. (Carrillo’s son receives a spinal tap — a lumbar puncture — every three months).
“We already know our doctor, our nurses here. Going from this to that, it’s going to be chaos for (the children),” Carrillo said. “This move would be devastating for us and for all the children that receive care from here.”
By consolidating services in one location, Kaiser Permanente “wants to be the next Children’s hospital,” according to Walsh. And it’s upsetting to her that they have focused their cutbacks on minors.
“They’re choosing the most fragile population, children fighting cancer,” she said.
Concerned parents have started an online petition urging Kaiser Permanente not to close the Woodland Hills unit.
“It is with great sadness that I write this, and my only hope is that you never have to go through the pain of seeing someone you love having cancer and then finding out that the clinic they go to will be closing. With tears and a fear in the pit of my stomach I am asking each and every one of you for help. Please sign this petition so that Dr. Susan Storch is able to continue her practice without the fear of being shut down,” wrote Anna Rosales, who launched the petition which has received support from nearly 3,000 people (the goal is 5,000).
In an email to the San Fernando Sun/El Sol newspaper, Kaiser Permanente officials denied they are shutting down any unit.
“We understand there has been some misinformation that we feel it is important to address. We have every intention of continuing to offer high quality pediatric clinical oncology services at the Woodland Hills Medical Center,” wrote Peggy Hinz, senior director of Regional Integrated Brand Communications for Kaiser Permanente, Southern California Region.
“There are no plans to stop providing these services at this location. In-patient services may be provided at another nearby Kaiser Permanente location at some future time. We will be sharing these details over the coming months directly with families who may be affected as plans are finalized. We will be providing letters to the parents assuring them pediatric care is not closing at this medical center,” Hinz added.
Both Carrillo and Walsh are not convinced, in part because they have heard about the closure from nurses and their own doctors at the hospital.
“They’re trying to make it look like nothing’s going to change, but it will,” Carrillo said.
To support the petition, visit https://goo.gl/hXWQEo.