SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Access to Reproductive, Emergency Services Erodes
"Access to [health] care remains elusive for many people" in Southern California, according to a new comprehensive report released this week by the USC's Southern California Study Center. The organization's "Health Atlas" assesses the status of care in eight counties, finding that "more than a quarter of the people in the Southland lack health insurance ... and emergency and reproductive services are spread increasingly thin." Noting that the area's resources are "unevenly distributed across the region and its populations," the report pinpoints the uninsured as "one of the biggest hurdles" to alleviating the problem. "Until we make significant moves to reduce the number of uninsured ... the 'good part' of the [health-care] system will remain very limited," Michael Cousineau, a USC researcher, said. Even those who have coverage face increasingly limited choices as a result of managed care's rule, the Health Atlas states. Other access problems, such as restricted reproductive services, revolve around care providers. Recent mergers and acquisitions have brought more and more hospitals under the umbrella of a religious affiliation, the report notes, characterizing 22 of Los Angeles County's 113 general acute care hospitals as "religiously affiliated," mainly with the Roman Catholic Church. While such associations can be positive "because faith-based institutions tend to be committed to the poor and uninsured, ... religious affiliations have slowly chipped away women's access to abortions, contraception and fertility treatments." According to researchers, "that in some ways is like a small time bomb ticking away in this report ... a time bomb ticking away at the heart of the system." Southern California residents also face difficulties in accessing emergency services, which are "slowly eroding as well," the Los Angeles Times reports. The number of hospitals in Los Angeles County capable of treating emergency illness and injuries dropped 15% from 1992 to 1997, while 10 trauma centers have closed in the past 15 years, leaving only 13. The picture is not entirely bleak: the region boasts mortality rates for coronary artery disease and cancer lower than the national average and already has complied with federal goals for reducing adolescent pregnancy, gonorrhea and AIDS. But the report warns that although the AIDS death rate is declining thanks to new drug treatments, HIV infections continue to rise, most notably among black women (Marquis, 11/11).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.