The special health crisis task force charged with finding an alternative to the proposed closing of mammoth LAC-University of Southern California Medical Center apparently has done its job. But smaller hospitals now may be on the block.
Los Angeles County Chief Administrative Officer Sally Reed said that this week she will order about $450 million in healthcare cuts instead of the $655 million she originally proposed and later raised to $745 million (June 26, p. 6).
This means the task force has found ways to plug part of the county health service's share of this fiscal year's $1.2 billion budget deficit. That will probably spare 1,402-bed County-USC, according to David Langness, a spokesman for the 230-hospital Healthcare Association of Southern California.
Reed told an HASC official about the smaller proposed cuts after a delegation of California officials returned empty handed from its meeting in Washington with Clinton administration representatives last week. Task force members and county supervisors, joined by eight members of Congress from California, reportedly asked for more than $200 million that the county says the federal government owes in delayed Medi-Cal payments. Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.
The five-member task force, headed by former Assembly Health Committee Chairman Burt Margolin, was scheduled to formally present its recommendations to Reed late last week. No details were available at press time.
County supervisors will consider the recommendations this week.
In its deliberations last week, the task force said that an alternative to closing County-USC was to close three other county hospitals-284-bed Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar, 493-bed Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance and 124-bed High Desert Hospital in Lancaster. That proposal also included closing several clinics and comprehensive health centers as well as privatizing or selling 410-bed Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey, a rehabilitation center, Langness said.
Meanwhile, to deal with any hospital closures, HASC has proposed a partnership with the county in which private hospitals would care for more Medi-Cal patients, Langness said.
The partnership would be similar to the one forged during a previous crisis in the early 1990s when county obstetric departments were at 125% of capacity. Private physicians and hospitals originally did not want to provide more maternity care because they were paid at a lower rate than public hospitals under Medi-Cal and they had to buy their own malpractice insurance.
That crisis was resolved when the state agreed to pay private physicians and hospitals at the same Medi-Cal rate and to provide malpractice coverage. Consequently, many joined in caring for the patient overload, Langness said.