The hospital closest to Los Angeles International Airport -- labeled California's No. 1 terrorist target by government officials -- has already suffered a near-death experience of its own.

Before Tenet ( THC) bought it, Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital enjoyed celebrity status as the rehab center of choice for movie stars such as Melanie Griffith and Robert Downey Jr. The hospital's plastic surgeons lifted decades from superstar faces. Its emergency staff treated bloody victims hurt during the riots that followed the beating of Rodney King.

These days, however, the hospital itself seems lifeless. The wards that once housed movie stars have fallen silent, bare floors and empty filing cabinets visible through dimly lit windows. The rest of the facility, forced to remain open because of public outcry, treats just a few dozen patients in acute-care units dominated by vacant hospital beds.

Ambulance sirens sound almost foreign in the warm Marina air.

Tenet has a long history of buying, and then closing, hospitals just like Marina. In the past, the company has frequently eliminated its competition so it could dominate the markets -- and raise the prices -- in the areas where it operates. And it has executed its strategy right under the noses of government authorities charged with protecting the public.

In Los Angeles, where Tenet owns nearly half the hospitals in one section of town, community activists last year warned of serious risks.

"We are becoming increasingly concerned about the financial stability of the corporation, possible violations of the asset sale agreement in the purchase of area hospitals and the impact of any reduction of hospital services in our community," the Los Angeles Community Health Councils wrote in a November letter to the state attorney general -- who approved Tenet acquisitions -- and to some other government agencies as well. "Our communities rely heavily on access to these Tenet facilities."

The council urged government officials to host a meeting, with senior Tenet executives present, to address its concerns before the end of the year.

"We got no response," marveled Laurie Sobel, a staff attorney at the watchdog group Consumers Union, who signed off on the letter.

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