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Orange County

Indigent Care May Get Budget Boost

Health: UCI Medical Center, overburdened with poor patients, says the county proposal to add $2 million isn't enough to solve crisis.

September 28, 2002|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Orange County Board of Supervisors next week will consider a proposal to increase by $2 million the amount the county spends to serve poor residents.

But health-care advocates said the proposed budget boost to $47 million doesn't go far enough.

The move comes as UCI Medical Center in Orange, which serves many of Orange County's poorest patients, is capping the services it provides for the indigent, referring some to 24 other Orange County hospitals.

Medical center officials said they simply can't afford all the costs and the budget proposal wouldn't solve the problem.

"UCI is supportive of the county, but we have some reservations as to how they're going to assist us with our ambulatory care problem. We haven't seen a solution yet," said Cindy Winner, UCI's associate director for outpatient care.

With only 9% of the total hospital beds in the county, the medical center handles 25% of poor patients, Winner said.

The medical center was not reimbursed by the county for $10 million to $11 million in hospital services and $2.5 million in physician services in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

County officials, however, said they are proposing several programs that they hope will improve the situation.

Under one of those programs, some poor patients would be evaluated at UCI, then transferred to another hospital by a doctor's group contracted through the county.

"The transfers will be at UCI's discretion, giving them the ability to reduce their caseload," said David Riley, a county health official. "We feel it could significantly reduce their volume of [poor] patients."

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