Supervisors Could Lose Health Role
By LAURENCE DARMIENTO
Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, D-South Gate, introduced a bill last week that would wrest control of the massive Department of Health Services from the Board of Supervisors and place it in the hands of an independent health authority an idea supervisors considered and discarded earlier this year.
The Assembly Majority Floor Leader and chair of the Legislature’s Latino Caucus, Firebaugh introduced the bill in response to service cuts the board has made to help close a projected $750 million budget shortfall and the prospect the board will close Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey.
Firebaugh said that on top of the parcel tax county voters passed last month that will funnel $168 million toward emergency services, local funding should be increased to the department, whether by raising taxes or some other means.
“The problem with the county system is that there are insufficient resources and an inability to find new resources to keep the system afloat and that is particularly a function of the political situation of the board,” he said.
A county task force that studied alternative governance of the department concluded earlier this year that a health authority might be an effective governance tool, but would not be helpful in solving the budget deficit.
The idea was shelved and the county has pushed ahead with a plan that involves cuts of clinics and other services, as well as the passage of the local parcel tax. County and state officials also plan to meet with Bush Administration officials this week on a federal bailout package that could total $700 million over five years but would still call for service cuts.
An aide to Supervisor Gloria Molina rejected the idea that a health authority would have an easier time raising funds. “We have basically turned over every rock and squeezed out every penny to maintain the system we have today,” said Miguel Santana.
Gil Ojeda, director of the California Program on Access to Care, a University of California think tank, said he viewed the bill as a move by Los Angeles County and Latino legislators to insert themselves in the debate of how to reorganize the county system.