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 the cuts were adopted, the clinic reductions would amount to 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 health clinics and seven clinics would be shut down.
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 Hollywood-Wilshire Health Center, 5205 Melrose Ave., and the Yvonne Brathwaite Burke Health Center, 2509 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica.
In addition, the public health clinic would be closed at the Culver City Subcenter, 4150 Overland Blvd., Culver City.
Dr. Michael Langer, district health officer at the Hollywood-Wilshire Health Center, said such cuts would mean 500 fewer patient visits per month at his center, which handles about 6,000 patient visits a month.
"The impact would be that patients with a general medical problem . . . will go to (H. Claude) Hudson Comprehensive Health Center or L.A. County USC Medical Center," both downtown and far from many of the patients' communities, Langer said.
Langer predicted that some patients would become discouraged by the long travel distances and "just put it off and let (an illness) 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.