Los Angeles department of mental health officials are scrambling to put in place a plan to care for thousands of mentally ill patients who are being kicked out of the county healthcare system.
It's been revealed that, as part of the Los Angeles County budget, supervisors transferred the responsibility for the care of the chronically mentally ill to the county mental health department from the county health services department.
The health services department has been caring for patients under contract with the mental health department. But according to the budget, the mental health department is now responsible for placing those patients in private healthcare facilities.
The mental health department is "working feverishly to identify exactly how" it will care for those patients, a department spokeswoman said. The department believes it can provide care for 60% of those patients by shortening hospital stays and focusing on outpatient services, she said.
A health services department spokeswoman said county facilities care for an average of 728 mentally ill inpatients and 1,951 outpatients per month.
The county already has informed private hospitals that it will begin advising law enforcement officials that mentally ill patients in police custody should be taken to private emergency rooms rather than to county hospitals.
However, private hospitals are not equipped to handle the large number of patients that will be steered in their direction, said David Langness, a spokesman for the Healthcare Association of Southern California.
Meanwhile, county supervisors also will consider a proposal by Sally Reed, county administrative officer, to close the 10 outpatient clinics that were spared when the supervisors originally decided to close 35 of 45 clinics by Oct. 1. The original proposal followed a recommendation by a healthcare crisis task force that spared giant LAC-University of Southern California Hospital and the other five public hospitals (July 31, p. 10).
The measure to be debated by the county supervisors is necessary because the $11.2 billion budget the supervisors adopted earlier this month contained funding that may not come through or be sufficient to close the massive budget deficit.
Langness said the healthcare association has learned that California Gov. Pete Wilson will sign authorization for a Medicaid waiver that may generate $200 million in additional Medicaid funds to help the county beef up its outpatient healthcare services.
But $200 million may be a drop in the bucket. The original $655 million budget deficit accounted for by healthcare services has grown to more than $800 million because money-saving service reductions have been delayed and because the budget assumed a $75 million infusion from transit funds that was vetoed by Wilson.