LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Supervisors Order Health System Hiring Freeze
With Los Angeles County's public health system facing a potential financial meltdown, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to freeze all hiring and contracts with the county's Department of Health Services if the federal government fails to extend a $1 billion Medicaid rules waiver, the Los Angeles Times reports. Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky initiated the board's move, arguing that it was necessary to prepare for "rational cuts" if the waiver does expires June 30. Last week, the board reached an impasse with state and federal governments over extending the waiver that saved the county from bankruptcy in 1995. Public employee unions and private clinics lined up to protest the most recent move. Kathy Ochoa, a health care analyst with the Service Employees International Union, called the decision "dangerous," noting that under current county budget policy, "The department is only able to hire its most critically needed positions." According to John Stenzel, executive director of Tarzana Treatment Centers, patients and staff fear possible cuts if an agreement cannot be reached on the waiver (Riccardi, 5/31). County Health Director Mark Finucane blames the situation on the state. "This is not about the performance of our department. This has everything to do with the financial contribution of the state, which has not been provided," he said (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/31).
Clinic Opens as Waiver Nears Expiration
Politicians and health officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate the official opening of the new downtown San Fernando Health Clinic, six years after it was destroyed by the Northridge earthquake, the Times reports. Some of those in attendance noted the "irony of the timing," with the $1 billion federal Medicaid waiver set to expire at the end of June and the Board of Supervisors' recent freeze on expansion of the county's outpatient system. According to Yaroslavsky, however, the clinic will remain open. "The whole northeast San Fernando Valley will be served by this clinic. We are working hard to stay ahead of ... the numbers of uninsured" in the area, he said. The county health department notes that about 500,000 of the county's 3 million uninsured live in the Valley, the area served by the San Fernando clinic. The 10,000 square-foot public clinic, which cost $4.18 million to build, provides primary medical, maternal and pediatric care and adult medicine (MacGregor, 6/1).