Daniel Freeman Hospitals and Saint John's Health Center have signed a letter of intent to form a joint operating company that will pool the two organizations' resources but maintain their separate identities.

The new company, Coastal Catholic Healthcare, does not represent a merger, according to Bruce Lamoureux, chief executive of Saint John's. "We have responsibilities to our communities that run very deep and feel an obligation to remain strong and in control of our future," he said.

Instead, the groups say they will pool resources for such functions as supplies purchasing and combining their information infrastructure. The three hospitals involved, Daniel Freeman Memorial in Inglewood, Daniel Freeman in Marina del Rey and Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, will also coordinate their strategic planning.

Pump it up

Sylmar-based MiniMed Inc. unveiled a so-called "Sof-serter" device last month at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association in Boston. Mini-Med makes insulin infusion pumps for diabetics. The small, portable pumps are worn by a patient, and through a needle-tipped tube, deliver a steady flow of insulin to their bloodstream.

The Sof-serter is the industry's first automated insertion device, the company says, and essentially helps patients guide the needle into the body at a consistent depth. MiniMed received permission from the Food and Drug Administration in March to begin marketing the new device.

Legal center for cancer patients

Loyola Marymount University's Loyola Law School last month opened a new legal resource center for cancer patients. The nonprofit Cancer Legal Resource Center, located in downtown L.A., is meant to help cancer patients cope with common issues including job discrimination, insurance coverage, estate planning, living wills and powers of attorney.

Services are available at the center in English and Spanish.

"It feels like Christmas for those of us on the front line trying to help cancer patients and their families and friends," said Cheryl Abe, a clinical social worker at UCLA Medical Center. "We often feel helpless when it comes to helping patients who are facing serious legal issues. With (the center) we now have a place to direct our patients."

Women in particular are expected to benefit from the new center, as women are more likely to have types of cancer that can hit people of working age.

The Cancer Legal Resource Center's phone number is (213) 736-1455.

More managed Medi-Cal

Woodland Hills-based Blue Cross of California says it has signed up 250,000 Medi-Cal members statewide, making it the largest commercial provider of Medi-Cal managed care in California.

Blue Cross said 85 percent of its new Medi-Cal enrollees are actively choosing a primary care physician, rather than waiting to be assigned one.

That's a good sign because it suggests that the vast majority of Medi-Cal patients understand how managed care works. Getting Medi-Cal patients to turn first to a primary care physician for non-critical treatment, instead of to a hospital emergency room, is considered the top money-saving benefit of instituting a managed care approach to administering Medi-Cal coverage.

Blue Cross is one of seven HMOs in Los Angeles that contracts with L.A. Care Health Plan, the nonprofit half of the county's two-model plan for getting Medi-Cal patients into a managed care system.

Sell, sell!

In a further indication of the financial woes it has been going through, PacifiCare Health Systems announced it is selling another HMO unit of FHP International, which it acquired in March for $2.2 billion.

The share price of Cypress-based PacifiCare, which has more L.A.-area members than virtually any other HMO, plummeted late last month after the managed care company announced lower-than-expected quarterly results.

PacifiCare blamed the poor earnings on "substantially lower performance in a number of FHP markets."

PacifiCare announced it will sell off FHP of Illinois to Principal Health Care, a subsidiary of Des Moines, Iowa-based Principal Financial Group. FHP of Illinois has about 76,000 HMO and preferred provider organization members.

Autism study underway

UCLA has been selected by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as one of three universities to participate in a research project on the neurobiology of autism. Autism is the most severe developmental disorder of children and affects about 1 in every 1,000 children.

Scientists know the condition is caused by some trauma to the developing brain but its specific cause is unknown. The new study is aimed at improving understanding the mechanisms that lead to autism. Yale University and the University of Chicago are the other two schools that will participate in the study.

New hospital project

In other UCLA news, UCLA Medical Center announced that architect I.M. Pei has been selected as chief planner for the construction of the center's new hospital facilities. The medical center suffered severe damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Planners determined it would be cheaper to build new hospital facilities than to rebuild the existing structures.

Pei has previously designed the entrance to the Louvre museum in Paris, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

UCLA is hustling to raise $300 million for the $1.1 billion project. Other moneys will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to help offset costs from the earthquake damage. The fundraising effort, headed by former Walt Disney Co. President Michael Ovitz, has so far raised $100 million in private funds.

Ben Sullivan is a reporter for the Business Journal and covers the health care industry.

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