With dozens of AIDS patients and their supporters looking on, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed Tuesday to pursue a "fast-track" program to provide hospice and home care for those afflicted with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The supervisors learned only recently of delays in spending $1.5 million that had been already earmarked for hospice care. On Tuesday, they directed the county Department of Health Services to explore ways to use that money for hospice facilities, including a possible site near Dodger Stadium.
The board also said the county will seek additional funds for hospice care of AIDS patients, and said the amount could be as much as $250,000 from savings that accrued from delaying implementation of the program.
"Obviously, we were very, very pleased with the vote," said Michael Weinstein, chairman of the county AIDS Hospice Planning Commission which had pressed the Health Services Department and the supervisors to move more quickly on alternatives to traditional hospital care.
"I think it's of enormous symbolic value in the whole future in the war against AIDS in the county," he added.
Rabbi Allen Freehling, chairman of the county Commission on AIDS, also applauded the board action as beneficial to both AIDS victims and to taxpayers. "Everybody's a winner. There are no losers," he said after the vote.
Under the hospice program, AIDS patients can be cared for in a private home or nursing facility. And its supporters argue that the costs are dramatically lower than a hospital stay.
Out of the nearly 3,900 reported AIDS cases in the county, only a few patients now receive hospice care. But in backing the concept, the supervisors followed the lead of their AIDS commission in asking the health department to determine how much money can be saved by transferring additional AIDS patients from hospitals to hospices.
The board, at the urging of Supervisor Ed Edelman, also instructed county health officials to determine whether Barlow Hospital, located in Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium, can be used as a full-service AIDS care facility.
Hospital officials are considering whether to add an AIDS care program to their present services if sufficient money can be found. And Edelman said Barlow's secluded setting and the hospital's surplus of vacant buildings make it suitable for an AIDS hospice program.
The board actions, which were greeted with a standing ovation from an audience of AIDS patients and their supporters, came as supervisors sought to reassure them that money previously set aside for the hospice program will not be squandered.
Both the supervisors and AIDS commissioners expressed surprise last month when they learned that the health department had not yet spent any of the $1.5 million approved last July for hospice programs. Some county officials attributed the long delay to cumbersome requirements that they claim have slowed the selection of outside health contractors. They also said they were awaiting a study that will show what kinds of alternative health care are needed most.
Although health officials said that these delays are soon to be behind them, the supervisors urged that hospice programs be speeded up even more and be explored on a "fast-track" basis.