The number of workers who could lose their jobs because of budget woes at Los Angeles County hospitals continues to be a moving target.
The county's Department of Health Services began September with a plan to cut as many as 1,266 positions at three county-operated hospitals.
But by mid-month, concerns over a smooth privatization of Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center, the elimination of vacant positions and transfers of employees to other jobs meant far fewer layoffs.
By Sept. 12, the number was whittled down to 328 actual jobs lost. Those layoffs would become effective Oct. 7, according to Health Services Director Mark Finucane.
However, as of last week, officials with Service Employees International Union Local 660, which represents 11,000 county health employees, said the number of layoffs could shift further downward as the union negotiates with county officials.
"It's an exercise in futility trying to determine the exact number of jobs that are going to be lost," said SEIU spokesman Steve Weingarten. "It's not a scientific process; it's a ballpark figure, and it's changing as we speak."
Indeed, Finucane indicated that some of the laid-off employees may be eligible for 168 new jobs at county clinics. Those positions were created as part of last year's $364 million federal bailout, which mandates that the county expand outpatient services by 50% and reduce hospital beds by as much as a third.
SEIU members employed at Rancho Los Amigos were among the protesters at hearings held by the county Board of Supervisors in early September, when it appeared that as many as 920 positions at the 772-bed rehabilitation hospital might be eliminated.
But the day after the demonstration, the board, concerned that deep cuts could compromise the hospital's pending takeover by a private operator, voted to reduce them drastically until a bidder was selected.
After receiving more than a dozen bids to take over Rancho Los Amigos, the county has selected three finalists: San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West; Inglewood, Calif.-based Daniel Freeman Hospitals; and S.K. Ching & Associates, a Los Angeles-based medical facility management firm.
An advisory panel of department executives and community leaders Finucane convened to study the proposals has favored CHW's bid, which is structured as a lease/management contract, according to health services spokeswoman Sharon Wainglin. But Wainglin noted that the county is continuing to negotiate with all three parties. She added that a contract is expected to be awarded within 90 days.
Meanwhile, Finucane indicated to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month that the welfare reform recently passed by Congress and an upcoming repayment of a portion of the federal bailout means the health services department may face a $200 million deficit next year.