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Community News: South

WATTS : Health Center Hit by Budget Cuts, Layoffs

August 21, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN

The Watts Health Foundation has laid off a tenth of its work force and will add a 24-hour urgent care center in a move to curb costs.

The foundation laid off 100 employees Aug. 11 in the wake of a $36-million state budget cut in Medi-Cal health services. Administrators said state funding to the foundation could be cut by as much as $5 million in the next year.

Patient services will not be affected, said Dr. Clyde W. Oden Jr., president and chief executive officer of the organization. All the clinic's facilities will remain open.

The only notable change for patients, he said, will be referrals. Patients who used to see specialists at the foundation will now be referred to the specialists' offices.

The layoffs will not affect the eligibility or benefits of 65,000 Medi-Cal-supported enrollees in the United Health Plan, Oden said.

A 24-hour urgent care center is being established at the Watts Health Center to provide less costly alternatives for emergency services. It will open in November.

"One reason to do this is we want to reduce the number of visits to the emergency room," Oden said. "It's a cost-cutting measure. Many of the patients seen are not emergency but urgent. They're not in life- and death-threatening situations."

Administrators were left with no choice but to furlough employees after four years of budget cutbacks, Oden said. "It's a layoff of indefinite time," he said, "but it's not permanent. It will be for at least 18 months."

The foundation has been helping laid-off workers with job placement and referrals through internal and external agencies, Oden said.

For 21 years, the Watts Health Foundation has operated one of the state's largest, contracted prepaid health plans. It was founded two years after the 1965 Watts riots as a federally funded community health center for local residents.

The Watts Heath Foundation is an umbrella organization for two health centers, 26 community health programs and services, and United Health Plan, the 12th-largest HMO in Southern California.

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