‘Tussle’ Between Los Angeles County Officials, Union Stalls Health Employee Retraining Program
A "tussle" between Los Angeles County supervisors and Service Employees International Union Local 660, which represents most of the county's health care employees, has delayed use of a $40 million fund that could decrease a "critical shortage" of nurses and other skilled medical employees in the county health system, the Los Angeles Times reports. Union and health officials say the fund should be used to retrain some of the county health department's more than 20,000 employees to perform "critical tasks." But the retraining program, which "was supposed to be in place by now," has been "held up" because the county Board of Supervisors and the union "are bickering over how to administer it." Union officials said that under the original plan, a not-for-profit organization jointly administered by the county and the union would allocate the retraining funds, but board members said that they "never approved" the arrangement and have directed the health department to develop an alternative plan. The fund represents part of a $900 million federal bailout the health department received last year in order to remain "solvent" and "make its health system more efficient and patient-friendly" (Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, 7/3).
While county leaders "dither and pass the buck," the psychiatric emergency room at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center has "degenerated to the point [of] 'bedlam,'" according to a Times editorial. The editorial warns that funding to "alleviate the crisis" will "not be easy to find" because the county health system "teeters on the brink of collapse due to overwhelming deficits." Still, "given the chaos" at the hospital, the Times writes that "everyone involved had better start looking [for funding] in new places. ... Fast." The Times also urges Gov. Gray Davis (D) to "prod" city, county and state officials to "streamline" permit and building code laws to expand psychiatric wards and to fund "Assertive Community Treatment" teams, which would allow police officers and mental health professionals to ensure that "seriously mentally ill people get ... counseling, medication and other outpatient treatment." The Times concludes that County-USC Medical Center "needs more beds and better health standards today. If a society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable, then Los Angeles must be judged harshly for deepening the despair of frightened and fragile people" (Los Angeles Times, 7/3).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.