LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Indigent Care Debate Heats Up
Underscoring the intensifying debate in Los Angeles County over health care for indigent patients, county supervisors yesterday refused to reject a cap on the number of uninsured patients county hospitals could treat, while calling for an investigation into allegations that Catholic Healthcare West shrugs off its charity care responsibilities. As private hospitals and union leaders pleaded with the board to reject the cap, which would limit private hospitals' practice of transferring charity cases to the county hospitals, the board dismissed the plan, but said "they remain open to reconsidering" it. The Los Angeles Times reports the cap would chalk up an estimated $5 million savings for the beleaguered county medical system.
Not So Happy
"[S]upervisors' ire at the private sector was raised by the report on Catholic Healthcare West's allegedly poor indigent care," compiled by the Service Employees International Union. According to the report, even as CHW's revenues have doubled since 1992, the state's biggest hospital chain spent less than 1% on charity care. And in the last three years, CHW facilities shuttled 3,400 uninsured patients to county hospitals, while treating just 20, the report said. "Catholic Healthcare West's appalling lack of charity care and increasing number of transfers is an example of why we can't trust private hospitals to share responsibility for the real and escalating public health crisis in Los Angeles," said Annelle Grajeda of SEIU Local 660. For its part, CHW dismissed the report, saying it was designed to "mislead the public." A CHW spokesperson said the union's figures on patient transfers were incorrect, saying instead that "the chain's Los Angeles hospitals only transferred 1% of their emergency room patients to county hospitals last year." The debate will likely heat up, the Times reports, as the county medical system is faced with a $300 million "structural deficit." "We're going to have death and devastation," warned Dave Bullock of the Service Employees International Union (Riccardi, 5/13).