As another hospital pulled out of Los Angeles County's official trauma center system on Tuesday, Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) proposed an initiative to get federal, state and local officials working to solve the trauma center funding crisis.
Wilson, at a Pasadena press conference, said he will push to use three sources of federal funding to shore up the financially crippled trauma network. The system, established in 1983 to improve emergency care of the most seriously injured patients, originally included 23 specially staffed and equipped hospitals.
But various problems, all involving the high cost of running a trauma center, had prompted four hospitals to drop out of the system--California Hospital Medical Center, Pomona Valley Community Hospital, Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital and Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital. On Tuesday, Santa Monica Hospital became the fifth to drop out.
The hospital will continue to treat trauma patients in the area that are not routed to UCLA Medical Center, said Janet Latto, Santa Monica Hospital's administrative director of emergency services. But the official county designation, which required certain levels of staffing, data collection and administration, made the center "too costly to operate" because of the low number of trauma patients, Latto said.
Gov. George Deukmejian recently vetoed nearly $30 million for trauma networks statewide, saying he regards them as a local, rather than state, responsibility. Wilson said Tuesday that he had "no interest in finger-pointing; I'm interested in solving the problem."
Wilson said his staff will be working with state officials, including the governor's staff, and with local officials to draft state and federal legislation to alleviate the financial pressure on the trauma center network.
Two pieces of existing federal law, the 1986 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act and the Immigration Reform and Control Act, provide ways for the state to pass legislation so that it can "tap into" federal welfare and Medicaid funds for newly legalized citizens, Wilson said.
Wilson also said he will offer an amendment to a pending health care bill that would allow the state to channel federal funds, now intended for other purposes, to financially ailing trauma centers.
All told, the three sources of federal funding could amount to $20 million annually, Wilson said. Los Angeles County would have received about $13 million of the $30 million vetoed by the governor.
Wilson said the federal funds could be of "enormous importance" to the system, but admitted that his proposals would not have immediate effect. "You can only do what the legislative process allows you to do," he said.