In a stark reminder of Los Angeles County's continuing fiscal crisis, the Board of Supervisors signaled its willingness Thursday to cut the pay of all county workers by 5% and to ease--but not eliminate--sweeping cuts in the county's health system. Those cuts could still cost 2,800 workers their jobs.
After hearing personal appeals from Sheriff Sherman Block, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti and the troubled county coroner's office, the supervisors rejected another $47.7 million in outright cuts to county programs outside the beleaguered health system.
Instead, the board went on record in favor of a 5% pay cut for all county employees to avert deeper reductions in law enforcement, criminal justice and other programs. Any reduction in pay for unionized county employees must be negotiated at the bargaining table and is expected to face stiff resistance.
The potential 2,800 layoffs--an estimate made by county personnel director Mike Henry--are far more than the initial estimate of 1,600 made in the immediate aftermath of a $364-million federal bailout.
With the bailout, the supervisors approved a plan that will keep open county hospitals, six comprehensive health centers and all of the county's community clinics. (Many of those clinics will eventually be turned over to private medical providers.)
However, without the money to support the entire health care system, the board accepted health czar Burt Margolin's recommendation to proceed with less severe but still significant cuts in outpatient services that will cost thousands of health workers their jobs and eliminate 500,000 patient visits annually--about 25% of the current total.
Margolin said the county will still cut health programs by $285.4 million. Almost $154 million will come from services at hospitals, almost $55 million from administrative costs, $38 million from mental health programs, nearly $25 million from health centers and clinics and $14 million from public health programs designed to prevent the spread of tuberculosis and sexually transmitted disease.
He said the federal rescue package, announced last month by President Clinton, provides "a stabilization of the [health care] system that was in free fall, that was in a state of collapse. We've avoided that."
Even so, he said, "there will still be significant layoffs." After computer runs are completed, new layoff and demotion notices will be issued. In two phases, employees will be laid off Oct. 15 or Oct. 30, depending upon when they receive their pink slip.
By day's end, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said non-union workers already were complaining bitterly about the looming pay cut. "It's a bitter pill for a lot of people to swallow," he acknowledged, "but we're in a crisis." He said the pay cut could be in place by Nov. 1. On another front, the union representing half of the county's 86,000 workers sued the board to block privatization of county health clinics.
The Service Employees International Union, Local 660, contended that in approving public-private partnerships without guaranteeing that county health care workers will staff them, the supervisors violated terms of their labor agreements with county workers designed to protect union jobs.
Walter Gray, assistant director of the county's Department of Health Services, said the greatest impact of the layoffs will be felt in outpatient clinics at County-USC Medical Center, followed by Martin Luther King Jr. / Drew Medical Center and Harbor-UCLA and Olive View-UCLA medical centers.
While the infusion of federal aid will save the health system from collapse, Margolin told the supervisors that efforts to downsize the vast health care system must proceed and will take years to complete.
"The county's health care delivery system is badly broken and continues to face severe structural and financial problems," Margolin wrote in a report to the board. "This system cannot be repaired with a piecemeal approach and must be completely restructured. The system must literally be reinvented."
He strongly urged the supervisors to hire a new director of the massive Department of Health Services as soon as possible.
Hours earlier, the board heard personal appeals from Block and Garcetti not to cut any deeper into spending on the sheriff's and district attorney's offices. To do so, the two men said, would risk unacceptable reductions in public safety programs.
"We're not doing the job that we can and should do," Garcetti said. "My office cannot take a dollar cut."
Unwilling to follow the recommendations of county Chief Administrative Officer Sally Reed to eliminate $47.7 million from the budgets of most county departments, Supervisor Gloria Molina urged her colleagues to spend more than half of the county's meager budget reserve to avoid a new round of cuts that would hit public safety the hardest.