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Officials consider adding more beds to County/USC Medical Center

Faced with severe overcrowding and emergency room wait times that average 12 hours, Los Angeles County officials are considering adding 150 more beds to County/USC Medical Center.

March 05, 2013|By Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times
  • The lack of inpatient beds at County/USC Medical Center regularly causes a backup in the emergency room. Above, a patient sleeps in the hallway near a resuscitation room to make way for incoming trauma cases.
The lack of inpatient beds at County/USC Medical Center regularly causes… (Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles…)

Faced with severe overcrowding and emergency room wait times that average 12 hours, Los Angeles County officials are considering adding 150 more beds to County/USC Medical Center.

The county opened a new state-of-the-art hospital in 2008 to replace an aging general hospital tower. But even before the doors opened, officials worried that it wouldn't be big enough. The new hospital has 600 inpatient beds, 224 fewer than its predecessor.

It didn't take long for the problem to become apparent.

"It was crowded the day it opened," said county Supervisor Gloria Molina, one of the most vocal proponents of a bigger hospital.

At Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Molina will ask colleagues to consider amending the hospital's master plan to prepare for the construction of additional beds. She believes "excessive" wait times are causing the emergency room to be "dangerously overcrowded."

The medical/surgical ward at County/USC regularly operates at 95% capacity, much higher than recommended. Because of the bed shortage, the hospital regularly diverts ambulances and transfers patients elsewhere.

In January, 98 patients were transferred to the county-run Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Hospital and 65 were sent to other hospitals, according to the county Department of Health Services.

The lack of inpatient beds also regularly causes a backup in the emergency room, as patients who should be admitted stay in the ER longer than necessary.

The county needs to take this first step toward expansion of County/USC because the current solutions to the crowding are inefficient and expensive, said Mitch Katz, the director of the health services department. And there is an urgency because of the federal health reform law, which takes full effect in 2014.

Next year, newly insured patients frustrated by long waits could seek care at private hospitals, leaving the county without much-needed revenue. At the same time, demand at County/USC could increase because people who may have gone without coverage or healthcare could seek medical services. Either way, county leaders say more space is needed at County/USC.

For years, health and county leaders have discussed the need for more beds at the acute-care hospital, one of the largest in the nation. In 2010, the supervisors voted to ask staff to develop a plan to add 150 beds. That was after an independent report said the county hospital was too small to meet patient demand. The plan stalled because of a lack of funding, Molina said.

Construction of the additional beds could cost $300 million to $450 million, Katz said. The financing would come through the sale of bonds, Molina said.

anna.gorman@latimes.com

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