Physicians at county health clinics faced with possible closures or major cuts in the next fiscal year joined Supervisor Deane Dana this week in warning that the proposed cuts would hurt the county's poorest residents and ultimately could cost more money than they save.
Dana unsuccessfully sought the backing of the Board of Supervisors to remove the 15 health clinics from a "hit list" of potential cutbacks that will be considered at the county's budget deliberations in June, when officials grapple with a projected $170-million budget shortfall.
Dana's motion was rejected Tuesday on a 2-2 vote, with Supervisors Ed Edelman and Pete Schabarum opposing Dana and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich supporting him.
If adopted, the clinics would lose about $570,000 monthly and about 15,650 patient visits per month would be eliminated. The county would drop services for ambulatory patients at eight clinics and seven others would be shut down.
Badly Needed Services
Dana said the 15 clinics are in communities where the county's low-cost and free health care are badly needed.
"What we are talking about here is the homeless, elderly people and children--the people who are the very reason why we opened these clinics in the first place," Dana said. "Saving these programs will be a top priority for me."
If the supervisors approve the cuts this summer, ambulatory care would be discontinued at the Whittier Health Center at 7643 S. Painter Ave. in Whittier, and the Compton Health Center at 300 E. Rosecrans Ave. in Compton.
In addition, public health clinics would be closed at the Pico Rivera Health Center at 6336 S. Passons Blvd. in Pico Rivera, the Firestone Subcenter at 8019 S. Compton Ave. in Los Angeles, and the Bell Gardens Subcenter at 6912 Ajax Ave. in Bell Gardens.
Dr. Erica Watson, district health officer in Whittier, said the cuts would reduce the client count by about 200 to 300 patient visits per month in Whittier, and about 2,000 to 2,500 patient visits per month in Pico Rivera.
"The logical place for these people to go would be the El Monte Comprehensive Health Center, but we have experienced difficulties in getting patients in there," because that center already has a long waiting list, Watson said.
She said that if the Pico Rivera facility were closed but the Whittier facility remained open "it would be impossible for us to absorb that workload, because we have such a space problem here."
Dr. Michael Langer, district health officer at the Hollywood-Wilshire Health Center, which also faces major cuts, said many poor patients have little transportation available to them, and would be forced to travel long distances to visit other county facilities.
He predicted that some patients would become discouraged and "would just put it off and let (health problems) slide and perhaps end up in an emergency room or the hospital."
Edelman said he did not want to spare the clinics from budget deliberations because he wants to send a message to Sacramento that the county may face a health-care crisis unless the state picks up a larger share of the health-care bill for the poor.
In recent years, the state has shifted more of the burden for caring for the poor to individual counties, and Los Angeles County officials have lobbied for increased state funding.
"I want to get the attention of the governor and the Legislature," Edelman said.
Edelman said he hopes that when state officials see the deep cuts the county is considering, "they will understand what a dire situation we are facing."
Dana said that while he agrees that the county should exert pressure on the state, "if you have 10,000 or so people going to health clinics and then suddenly close them down, people are going to have to go find other county health facilities that will be more difficult to get to and even more crowded. That will cost the county at least the same dollars, or maybe even more."
Dana questioned the wisdom of closing public health clinics, which he said provide "the most basic health services," including prenatal care, immunizations, hypertension screening and children's health care.
"The screening and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and communicable diseases would be eliminated from these local clinics," Dana told the board. "At a time when we are increasing services for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, it would be counterproductive to eliminate the clinics."