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County Will Be 'Conciliatory' to Governor

July 22, 1987|TED VOLLMER | Times Staff Writer

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to send Gov. George Deukmejian a "conciliatory" letter apologizing for inadequately educating him about Los Angeles County's troubled trauma-care network.

The board's action followed disclosures in The Times that the county, despite a deepening trauma network crisis, had made no effort to persuade the Deukmejian Administration that the network faces collapse unless state relief is provided. Deukmejian earlier this month vetoed appropriations totaling $40 million that were intended to bail out the financially strapped system.

County officials also disclosed Monday that they had not sent the governor a position paper describing the trauma network's problems.

Citing the county's non-existent lobbying effort, individual board members said Tuesday that perhaps Deukmejian's vetoes were made on the basis of incomplete information.

"There's a lot of misunderstanding in this area, and I think we need to couch this letter in terms of maybe somewhat of an apology to the governor in not fully informing him and his staff of the relationship between the county health system and the private hospitals (in the trauma network)," said Supervisor Deane Dana, a longtime friend of the governor. "We must not heap the blame on his staff or anybody (for the vetoes)."

Dana expressed the hope that the letter will lead to a change of heart on the trauma network issue. Deukmejian has defended his vetoes, saying that trauma funding is a local, not a state, responsibility.

County officials contend that the trauma network is suffering because the state has not met its commitment to cover most of the cost of caring for indigent trauma patients who are neither insured nor qualify for Medi-Cal coverage.

"It's very evident that if (the funding) isn't reconsidered, within six months to a year we will have lost the finest trauma system in the United States. That will affect every single citizen of Los Angeles County," Dana said.

A Deukmejian spokesman, meanwhile, held open the door for some gubernatorial change of mind--but just a crack.

"The governor would certainly be interested in the contents of the letter, but it should be pointed out that the governor's position has been presented to the county board and it is a clear position," Press Secretary Kevin Brett said.

Actual phrasing of the supervisors' letter is to be worked out in the next few days. Supervisor Ed Edelman, a Democrat who has been particularly critical of Deukmejian's vetoes, agreed to send the letter, but added, "I don't think we owe the governor an apology.

"I don't think I was wrong, but I am willing to temper my comments in the hopes that he might re-evaluate the situation based on new information," Edelman said. "I'm willing to take this kind of approach knowing that he gets his feet dug in and you've got to give him a chance to get himself out."

In the last year, three private hospitals--citing financial losses due to the expense of caring for indigent trauma patients--have withdrawn from the local trauma network. One more, Santa Monica Hospital, has announced plans to withdraw next month. Several others are reportedly reassessing their continued participation. When Santa Monica Hospital drops out, there will be 18 hospitals remaining in a system that once had 23.

The network was established in 1983 to provide a countywide system of specially equipped and staffed emergency rooms for victims of serious injuries. The system has tried to guarantee that no injury victim would be more than a 20-minute ambulance ride from the nearest trauma center. That guarantee was recently dashed when Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood closed its trauma center.

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