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County Health Service Cuts

August 01, 1993

The proposed budget for the County of Los Angeles' Department of Health Services, if adopted, should be accompanied by a warning notice posted at all factories, office buildings, stores and restaurants that "Living in the County of Los Angeles may be hazardous to your health."

Far-fetched? Nothing could be further from the truth. The cutbacks being proposed as a result of the state's recently adopted budget place all county residents at risk of increased likelihood of being exposed to infectious and communicable diseases, or finding their emergency rooms out of service even for those who can pay.

The reductions in the funds available for public health clinics, hospitals and comprehensive health centers will lead to reductions in immunizations for communicable diseases, limited availability of influenza vaccines for the elderly, and decreased assurances that food handlers infected with hepatitis viruses will be detected in a timely fashion. Closure of public hospitals and comprehensive health centers will mean that people in need of urgent care will seek it at the nearest available emergency room. Those that remain open are likely to have long waits for service.

Are there solutions? None that are easy or painless to apply. More funds are needed from a budget that without revenue enhancement is grossly insufficient. Short-term options are available. Renegotiating or restructuring debt obligations on a temporary basis is one possibility. Obtaining temporary relief from the state's "maintenance of effort" requirement is another. Temporarily extending the sales tax to meet public safety obligations may help.

More permanent solutions may be found, but waiting until then is not an option. Your health and the health of your children, parents and grandparents are at risk. If we are unwilling to address the problem, the least we can do is to ensure that everyone is aware that "Living in Los Angeles County may be hazardous to your health."

ROBERT C. MYRTLE, Professor, Health Services Administration and Gerontology, USC

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