Los Angeles County Supervisors Approve ‘Deep’ Reductions to Health System, Closure of 11 Health Clinics
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously voted to close 11 of the county's 18 public health clinics, end inpatient services at High Desert Hospital and lay off 5,000 health care workers -- the "deepest cuts ever" to the county's health system, the Los Angeles Times reports. The plan will save the county about $150 million. The vote came during final negotiations over the county budget, with supervisors stating that the county does not have enough money to sustain the current system. Since 1995, the county health department has relied on two five-year, $1 billion "bailouts" from the federal government. The bailout funds begin to decrease next year and run out completely by 2005. As part of an agreement with the government, supervisors had promised to streamline the health system, a condition they had not met until the vote yesterday. "We have to do what we probably should have been doing five years ago," Supervisor Yvonne Burke said. The supervisors added that the health department should "prepare for far more severe" funding cuts in October if they fail to convince the federal government to give the health system an additional $350 million. The additional reductions could decrease or eliminate emergency room and inpatient services at two hospitals, Olive View and Harbor UCLA Medical Center. Supervisors also voted to spend $4 million in surplus funds to maintain a program for low-income mental health patients.
The plan approved yesterday still must be debated at public hearings this summer, after which time supervisors will vote on the proposal a second time. If they approve the plan, the clinics would close by October. Labor unions and health care advocates have pledged to "fight" to keep the clinics open, possibly through legal action. The county health care system cares for 800,000 people each year, most of whom are uninsured and "have nowhere else to go," the Times reports. Labor leaders and health care advocates said that the supervisors have "enough money on hand" to maintain full funding for the health department for another year, adding that supervisors are "moving too fast." The county health department has $160 million in reserves for next year, and the county has nearly $500 million. Some supervisors directed the county health department to consider proposals that would maintain inpatient services at High Desert Hospital and explore options to reconfigure the health care system (Riccardi et al., Los Angeles Times, 6/27).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.