DRC successfully fights closure of major hospital serving people with disabilities

Nurse taking care of an elderly patient at a hospital.

Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California has quite a history. Founded in 1888 by the County of Los Angeles, “Rancho”, as it’s often called, is a respected, nationally known rehabilitation hospital for people with disabilities, serving thousands of patients each year. Important health care innovations, including the “halo” device used to support the head and neck of spinal cord injury patients were invented at Rancho.  Rancho was also legendary for its physical, occupational and respiratory therapy services. 

However, fifteen years ago, LA County faced a budget crisis, and proposed big cuts to county health care services to close the gap. One of those cuts included closing Rancho. Although other county hospitals faced service reductions, no other facility faced complete closure.

Disability Rights California (DRC) led a team of attorneys and public interest firms in a challenge to Rancho’s closure. They requested a preliminary injunction to stop the closure, and submitted more than a hundred sworn declarations from doctors, patients and community leaders about the devastating impact if Rancho were to close. 

The lead plaintiff in the case was Susan Rodde, who had been receiving services at the hospital since she was a child. Rancho was the only Medi-Cal provider in the county that could handle the complex treatments Susan needed.

The federal court granted an injunction and the County appealed the lower court’s decision. Melinda Bird was DRC’s lead attorney on the case.

In the Rancho case, called Rodde v Bonta, the Ninth Circuit found that “the closure of Rancho would deny certain disabled individuals meaningful access to government-provided services because of their unique needs, while others would retain access to the same class of services.” Imposing this “disproportionate burden” was discrimination based on disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The decision was groundbreaking and has been cited hundreds of times by other courts and legal authorities. Susan Rodde said she was grateful to DRC and the Ninth Circuit Court for helping to keep Rancho Los Amigos open.