Surgical Delays in L.A. County Draw Concerns About Uninsured
Uninsured adults in Los Angeles County face waiting periods of one year or longer for receiving gallbladder and hernia surgery at county hospitals, and the waiting times are increasing because of an aging population and a growing rate of chronic diseases, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Community clinic physicians say the backlog has worsened since Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital last year reduced its services, including most specialty care.
As a result, community clinics now rely on only five county-owned hospitals to provide all specialty care for uninsured patients. The 117 clinics collectively see about 600,000 patients monthly.
The delays are longest for patients at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, which absorbed the majority of King-Harbor's displaced patients. The facility earlier this month notified clinic physicians not to send patients requiring certain nonemergency procedures until the hospital reduced a yearlong backlog for these surgeries.
The procedures included those to treat gallstones and hernias, as well as some orthopedic and neurosurgery operations.
The facility lifted the ban following an inquiry by the Times, but the backlog remains.
Michael Wilson, county health services spokesperson, said the delays signal that the county succeeded in reducing visits to the emergency department and increasing visits to primary care clinics.
Wilson said the county is "rethinking the whole process of specialty care" with a pilot program at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. He added that Harbor-UCLA also plans to overhaul its specialty clinics.
However, Wilson said, "In our system, waiting is just a reality" (Engel, Los Angeles County, 7/25).