LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Trauma Network Faces Funding Crisis
Los Angeles County's 13 trauma centers are "once again in critical condition," facing a "serious shortage of money at a time when neither private insurance companies nor governments are eager to pay for an expensive -- although vital -- level of medical care," the Los Angeles Times reports. Recently, five private hospitals informed the county that they might close their trauma operations. However, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and Providence Holy Cross Medical Center yesterday backed off those claims, while Childrens Hospital Los Angeles said it would consider closing, but only if other facilities did so first. The remaining two hospitals -- Huntington Memorial and Northridge Hospital Medical Center -- indicated that they "do not want to close," but will do so if the "financial picture does not improve." As it is, the infrastructure is "crumbling," according to some hospital administrators. Coupled with an increasing number of uninsured residents, hospitals and doctors "are being battered" by declining reimbursement rates. Compounding the problem, the county is facing a "funding emergency" because of a "dramatic cut" in proceeds from the tobacco tax that private hospitals rely upon to care for the uninsured. Coping with a 50% cut in those funds this summer, trauma centers only agreed to month-to-month contracts with the county.
A Three-Ring Circus?
To alleviate the situation, hospitals have proposed that the county infuse $17 million into trauma care, a solution county officials are hesitant to agree to with the county's health department facing estimated annual deficits of $500 million within the next five years. Likening the situation to a "three-ring circus," Dr. Don Gaspard, Huntington Memorial's medical director of trauma service, said, "The county thinks the state should pay, the state thinks the county should pay and both think the Feds should intercede." County officials have been "struggling" all summer to keep the system running while devising a solution to the problem. County supervisors are scheduled to look at several plans over the next few weeks and will hold a public hearing on the issue Monday (Riccardi/Haynes, 9/8).