COUNTY-USC HOSPITAL: Latino Officials Push for More Beds
A group of Latino officeholders demanded Wednesday that L.A. County supervisors discontinue plans to scale down the size of a new hospital. State lawmakers and county health officials continue to clash over the new County-USC Medical Center, the Los Angeles Times reports. Group leader and Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D) and Supervisor Gloria Molina insist it is essential the county approves the construction of a 750-bed hospital in the Boyle Heights area or open a smaller satellite hospital in the San Gabriel Valley in addition to County-USC. But the county proposal includes only 600-beds, a number Latino officials deem "totally inadequate in a county with the largest number of [uninsured] residents in the nation."
In an attempt to break the standoff, Villaraigosa said the Legislature would guarantee "long-term funding" for the hospital's construction and operation -- an offer county officials doubt can be upheld, given the changing political climate in Sacramento and Washington. Yet, Los Angeles County Health Services Director Mark Finucane supported the county's decision by saying "a satellite hospital in Baldwin Park or the east San Gabriel Valley is 'a better idea than building 750 beds' in Boyle Heights." In addition, Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said the county's decision for fewer hospital beds is based "on projections that show a decline in the number of hospital beds that will be needed" as the county builds its outpatient clinics and health centers. Expansion in outpatient services -- to reduce the use of more costly inpatient care -- was the basis for a 1995 Federal bailout of the county's health care system. However, Dr. Robert Tranquada, former dean of the USC Medical School, disagrees, stating that "all but one of the studies done on the size of a new hospital concluded that more than 700 beds are needed." Supervisor Molina vowed to press Federal officials on the hospital size issue when they consider the Government's funding extension to the county's health services.
A Bigger Problem
Los Angeles County houses the nation's largest and fastest growing uninsured population, 2.8 million. According to Tranquada, the number rises to 3.3 million when the half million undocumented residents are included. UCLA health care expert E. Richard Brown said the numbers increase by 20,000 per month "because many employers do not provide health insurance. 'Los Angeles employees are less likely to be offered health insurance than other Californians and other Americans.'" Community Health Councils Executive Director Lark Galloway-Gilliam argues that the struggle over County-USC Medical Center must be resolved soon, noting, "Our politics are getting the way of our moral obligation" to provide health services to the people of L.A. County (Rabin, 10/21).