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The Valley

Plan to Privatize Hospital Rejected

June 04, 2003|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County supervisors rejected a plan Tuesday that sought to save inpatient services at the county-run High Desert Hospital by leasing it to a private company.

The county is converting the Lancaster hospital into an ambulatory care clinic, meaning it would only handle minor medical procedures, to save $10 million per year, part of a larger plan to close a projected $1.1-billion budget shortfall in the county health-care system by the 2007-08 fiscal year.

The privatization plan, which failed on a 3-2 vote, would have maintained major hospital services at High Desert by leasing beds to a nonprofit health-care foundation and turning management over to a private physicians group.

An analysis of the plan, released Monday by county health director Thomas Garthwaite, noted that it requires the county to pay $6.7 million during a six-month transition period.

Garthwaite also raised concerns about the plan's long-term profitability and said it would not adequately serve indigent patients, which has traditionally been High Desert's goal.

He reaffirmed his position that a new ambulatory care clinic would help draw patients away from the crowded emergency room at nearby Antelope Valley Hospital.

On Monday, the nonprofit Antelope Valley Hospital filed a federal lawsuit to protect inpatient services at High Desert, one of a number of recent challenges to the county's attempts to manage its health-care costs.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents the area and supported the motion, called the board vote "a really short-sighted move," because the county might have to reconsider such a plan if Antelope Valley Hospital successfully blocks the cutbacks in court.

The conversion is expected to take place by the end of June.

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