Two busy downtown Los Angeles hospitals that were planning today to drastically reduce their emergency room services agreed Tuesday to postpone the cuts for 60 days. The agreements came after a personal appeal from the state's health chief and a $560,000 grant to one hospital by the Los Angeles County supervisors.
"I think we need the 60 days to try to get us on the road to long-term solutions," said Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, the state's director of health services who flew to Los Angeles Tuesday to meet with hospital executives at California Medical Center and the Hospital of the Good Samaritan.
Kizer promised to look diligently for solutions to the funding crunch that has recently squeezed Los Angeles emergency rooms, but he also warned that he does not consider the matter "as a simple question of a blank check."
The situation, he said, is "symptomatic of a system that has a lot of problems in how we fund health care in this state and across the country."
To prop up California Medical Center's emergency room, county supervisors dipped into contingency funds left over from an $11.2-million allocation that they approved in December to shore up the ailing trauma center system. Seven hospitals have dropped out of the trauma system in Los Angeles. And Tuesday, Upland's San Antonio Community Hospital, which is located in San Bernardino County but serves a large part of eastern Los Angeles County, became the latest hospital dropout.
Los Angeles hospital officials say their emergency rooms and trauma centers have become tremendous financial drains as more and more people seeking care at them cannot or will not pay their bills.
Losses of $500,000 a Month
Officials at California Medical Center, which lost $2.6 million last year, are projecting emergency room losses of $500,000 a month.
"Even with this interim agreement, we're looking at some financial exposure," said William Haug, executive director of the nonprofit California Medical Center.
"We're going to lose a ton of money," Samuel J. Tibbitts, president of the Lutheran Hospital Society, which owns the medical center, said of the interim plan. But he said the hospital agreed to delay the cuts based on Kizer's "good-faith" pledge that he will try to find a long-term funding solution to the emergency care problem.
The commitment from California officials appeared to have allayed somewhat the fears of officials at the nearby Hospital of the Good Samaritan, which was offered no interim financial support by the county. Just as they had followed California's lead in announcing cutbacks of their own emergency services, they followed the medical center's lead Tuesday in announcing a 60-day delay of the cuts.
In a statement, Good Samaritan officials officials stressed their decision was based on the assumption that California Medical Center "continue to provide emergency room services in accordance with past practices."
French Hospital of Los Angeles, a smaller facility in Chinatown, has also threatened to downgrade its emergency room effective June 18, but officials there declined to discuss the matter Tuesday.
For several weeks, county health officials have been negotiating a delay in the hospital cutbacks but as recently as last Thursday, California Medical Center spurned a tentative county offer of $500,000.
County Health Services Director Robert C. Gates said the deal was sweetened Tuesday by some additional money and also by significant pledges from the county to exclude Skid Row from California's service area, to expedite the transfer of stable, indigent patients to county hospitals and to reimburse the hospital $740 a day for those who are not transferred promptly.