Federal Bailout Triggers Demands to Reopen Clinics
By LAURENCE DARMIENTO
Don’t expect the squabbling over health care cutbacks to stop now that Los Angeles County has made a deal for a $150 million federal bailout of its financially troubled health department.
Last week’s deal, which spreads the money over two years, might only intensify the conflict. Union leaders are already demanding that the Board of Supervisors reopen shuttered clinics and reverse the planned closures of two hospitals.
“We believe there needs to be a reconsideration of the downsizing of the department,” said Kathy Ochoa, senior health policy analyst with the Service Employees International Union, Local 660, which represents 20,000 health department employees. “Pieces are in place that nobody anticipated six months ago.”
The union maintains that demand for services at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center and High Desert Hospital, both still slated for closure, are too great for the county to carry through on the plans. And it questions the wisdom of keeping clinics closed while hospital beds are being cut back.
County officials maintain that even with the bailout, the closures are a key requirement to stabilizing the department.
“If we (halted the cutbacks), we would be right back in the same situation,” said Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who chairs the Board of Supervisors and dismissed the union’s call. “All this does is keeps us from having to do more (cutbacks.)”
County officials feared they might have to close Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Olive View Medical Center if federal funds did not come through, but now those closures are off the table.
More aid could be coming to the county, depending on the outcome of additional negotiations between county, state and federal officials over the next three months.
The existing funding provides the department with stability over the next two years, and possibly longer if more money is forthcoming but only if the cutbacks already agreed upon are carried out, county officials said.
However, union officials believe the county may be able to provide more services than it currently believes when a final tally is taken.
The pending negotiations involve a proposal by the county to keep its federal hospital funding level even as it closes inpatient beds in order to pay for more outpatient services. It is also looking to receive higher reimbursements for providing care to Medicaid patients served by managed care programs.
The union believes there may be movement on the federal level to reduce the number of uninsured over the next two years, which would take much of the strain off the department.