Hospitals worry employees won't be able to get work during 405 Freeway closure
A top administrator at a West L.A. hospital told transportation and law enforcement officials Thursday night that there is a "serious gap" in their planning and preparation for the mid-July closure of several miles of the 405 Freeway.
There hasn’t been sufficient efforts to ensure hospital employees will be able to get to work in a timely or predictable fashion during the closure, a problem that could seriously endanger patients, said Posie Carpenter, chief administrative officer at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
Carpenter was one of about 100 people who attended a community meeting on the closure held at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles.
The freeway will be closed for 53 hours beginning the evening of July 15 and ending early July 18 to allow crews to demolish the south side of the Mulholland Drive Bridge. They will then spend about 11 months doing bridge reconstruction on the south side, and after that they will demolish the north side of the bridge -- which will require another extended freeway closure.
The affected area includes the southbound 405, which will be closed for four miles between the 101 Freeway and the Getty Center Drive exit, and the northbound 405, which will be closed for 10 miles between the 10 and 101 freeways.
Officials said closing those segments is unavoidable and have warned people to stay away from the area during the closure. They have predicted massive backups and delays given that some 500,000 vehicles generally pass through those stretches on any given weekend.
The demolition is part of a larger $1-billion freeway improvement project that includes constructing a 10-mile northbound carpool lane to complete what officials say is a network between Orange County and the San Fernando Valley.
Law enforcement officials used the meeting as a way to explain what they said were extensive efforts to ensure public safety would not be compromised. But Carpenter used her time at the microphone to say officials were not doing nearly enough.
She said she came to the meeting to represent the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Westwood, the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, the hospital at the Veteran's Administration and St. John's in West L.A. She estimated about 1,500 employees are working at the various medical centers during each 12-hour shift.
Carpenter said she and other hospital officials have tried working with transportation and law enforcement agencies to address concerns about employees making it to work on time, but she said they’ve gotten nowhere. She said she wanted "to use this opportunity to point out to them, again, their stated goal of safety is not going to be met if they fail to assist the hospitals."
She said the hospitals were making efforts to try to provide overnight housing nearby for employees, but that there were not nearly enough beds for all of them.
A police official responded by saying that employees should leave for work early enough that any delays or traffic jams would not prohibit them from making it to work on time. He said that he expects his officers to do the same.
But Carpenter wishes police and transportation officials would provide a special convoy for employees of the medical centers during the closure because there is no way of knowing how long any of the expected traffic delays could be.
"Given that level of variability in what the situation could be on the ground, I can't afford, and our hospitals can't afford, not to plan," she said.
-- Ari Bloomekatz in West L.A.
Photo: Mulholland Bridge across the 405 Freeway. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times