California Health Care Advocates Began 2001 with Optimism, Ended in Disappointment
For health care advocates in California, 2001 was a year "of great anticipation followed by dramatic disappointments," as the recession and the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon deepened some existing problems and pushed back some planned improvements, the Los Angeles Times reports. "[Last] year started off with us thinking we could do anything," Helen Schauffler, director of the Center for Health and Public Policy Studies at the University of California-Berkeley, said, adding, "We had so much money. There was such a huge surplus. And then it just vanished." Some of the health care problems California faced in 2001 included:
- A plan to expand Healthy Families to low-income parents was delayed.
- Not-for-profit hospitals statewide "continued to struggle financially." For example, the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital -- a "key facility for the Santa Clarita region and the only trauma center between Northridge and Fresno" -- filed for bankruptcy in November.
- The nursing shortage showed no signs of abating, as registered nurses "continued to flee the health care business and fewer students signed up for nursing programs." Meanwhile, a "record" number of nurses joined unions.
- Los Angeles County saw the forced resignation of Health Director Mark Finucane after a "turbulent tenure" in which the department's "fiscal woes" were not resolved. The county's hospital and public health system faces a nearly $500 million loss in funding over the next two years, while the Bush administration recently approved "cuts in federal health financing that would reduce the budget even further."
After the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent anthrax incidents, health care officials turned their attention to bioterrorism, and it became apparent that California, like the rest of the nation, is underprepared for a possible attack using chemicals or biological agents. By the end of the year, any health care proposals that might have been considered under normal circumstances were "overwhelmed" by bioterrorism concerns. "Our lobbyists say they have to frame everything in terms of bioterrorism," David Jansen, chief administrative officer for Los Angeles County, said, adding, "That's the only thing anybody in Sacramento is interested in" (Bernstein, Los Angeles Times, 12/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.