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Finances Force Hospital Closure in Southern Dallas

DALLAS -- Medical Center at Lancaster, the only hospital in the southern Dallas County city, will close Thursday after 25 years of operation.

The hospital board made the decision Tuesday morning and informed the 350 employees a few hours later, hospital spokesman Joe Poulos said. He said the hospital was probably headed for bankruptcy.

Eboni Durham said she and other employees have been told to turn in their badges in two days.

"We are going to have to find new jobs -- find new jobs wherever we can," she said.

Merit Health Systems of Louisville, Ky., bought the hospital from American MedTrust in 2004. It had opened as a part of HCA in 1983.

The labor and delivery unit was remodeled in 2006, and administrators announced last year that they would further upgrade the facilities and invest in new equipment.

But the hospital continued to face obstacles such as competition, high levels of unpaid patient bills and low payment rates from HMOs.

"All those things combined made the hospital unable to be profitable," Mr. Poulos said. "Obviously, they would like to remain open and operate, but the Dallas metro market is very well covered."

The hospital had 50 in-patients Tuesday. Those who cannot be discharged by Thursday will be transferred to nearby facilities at Medical Center at Lancaster's expense.

Hospital board member Bill Wells said the shutdown is a huge loss for the city. "They provide medical care for all of the residents in the whole southwest Dallas area," he said.

City and Chamber of Commerce officials did not return calls seeking comment about the closure.

In a written statement, city spokeswoman Ciciely Hickmon said officials could not speculate on the facility's future.

"The city of Lancaster remains committed to its residents and is working diligently to minimize the impact of the closing of the Medical Center at Lancaster," she said in the three-paragraph statement.

Patients transported by Lancaster ambulances may choose their hospitals. Critically injured patients will be taken to the closest appropriate hospital, Ms. Hickmon said. Four hospitals are within 15 miles.

Medical Center at Lancaster has 90 beds and about 100 affiliated physicians. Employees will receive severance packages, but details were not released.

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