Harbor-UCLA Hospital Most Likely To Convert to Outpatient Clinic, Los Angeles County Report States
County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center would be the first of four Los Angeles County trauma centers to be converted to outpatient clinics if the county does not receive additional health system funding, according to a county draft report, Copley/Torrance Daily Breeze reports (Zahniser, Copley/Torrance Daily Breeze, 10/2). As part of a plan to help reduce a county health system budget deficit expected to reach $710 million in three years, the county Board of Supervisors last month voted to close 11 of the county's 18 public health clinics and four school-based health centers, as well as end inpatient services at High Desert Hospital in Lancaster. The plan also will reduce funds for childhood immunizations, tests for sexually transmitted diseases and examinations for communicable diseases. In addition, the county will lay off 4,230 health care workers by 2006 (California Healthline, 9/30). According to the draft report, prepared by Thomas Garthwaite, director of the county Department of Health Services, Harbor-UCLA is the "lowest priority" among the four facilities because South Bay-area residents would still have access to emergency care at King-Drew Medical Center. In the report, Garthwaite states that County-USC Medical Center in downtown Los Angeles is the most important of the hospitals, followed by King-Drew, Olive-View Medical Center in Sylmar and Harbor-UCLA. The rankings were based on a combination of factors, including proximity to other private hospitals and the number of local residents without health insurance. On Oct. 9, state and county officials will meet with federal officials in Washington, D.C., to discuss additional federal funding that could keep some of the hospitals open. However, CMS Administrator Tom Scully has indicated that a federal bailout is unlikely. The report "sets the stage for a major political battle" during a county Board of Supervisors meeting Oct. 29, Copley/Daily Breeze reports (Copley/Torrance Daily Breeze, 10/2).
In related news, the Los Angeles County Chamber of Commerce and the county Federation of Labor yesterday formed an "unusual alliance" to support a ballot initiative that would raise property taxes to pay for county trauma centers, the Los Angeles Times reports (Briscoe, Los Angeles Times, 10/3). The measure, proposed by county Board of Supervisors Chair Zev Yaroslavsky, would increase property taxes by three cents per square foot, an average of $42 per property per year. It also would establish a three-cent per square foot tax on structural improvements; a half-cent per square foot tax on parking improvements; and a tenth of a cent per square foot tax on agricultural, vacant or similar land (California Healthline, 8/2).
In response to Scully's comments last week that the federal government will not "just write [Los Angeles County] a check and bail [it] out," a Los Angeles Times editorial today asks why the Bush administration is "weaseling away" from providing an "emergency infusion of cash" for health care services. The Times contends that the federal government has "cut similar deals" to provide health care money to other cities 1,950 times in the last two years and should provide funds in Los Angeles, where Medicaid reimbursements are lower and the uninsured population is rising faster than almost anywhere else in the country. In addition, the county already has taken steps to shore up the health system by closing 11 health clinics and one hospital, the editorial says. The Times concludes, "[A]s any ambulance driver will attest, it doesn't matter if the person on her gurney is rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, he is just as likely to die if there's nowhere to take him" (Los Angeles Times, 10/3).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.