Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, a premier public hospital is severely overcrowded, media reports say.
Overcrowding has been a problem at the centre for decades. So it moved into a new, smaller facility in November 2008. But the problem is the new $1.02-billion hospital has a bigger emergency room with 40 percent more beds, there are 25 percent fewer beds for patients admitted to the hospital.
AdvertisementWhen the new complex was built, many pitched for a larger capacity, say, at least 750 beds, but apparently local politics and straitened finances meant a smaller version, a decision many rue now. There are now not enough beds to admit patients, causing back-ups in the emergency and waiting rooms.
In May, an average of 595 out of 600 beds were filled each day at midnight.
"We're seeing sicker patients.... Sicker patients take longer to diagnose and treat," said Carol Meyer, chief network officer for the county Department of Health Services, which runs County-USC.
Because those patients don't receive routine medical care, by the time they arrive at the hospital their conditions are generally much more serious.
Carol Meyer told the Los Angeles Times, those patients require more time to treat, and severely sick patients cannot be transferred to other hospitals until they are stabilized.
Some attribut the overcrowding problems to "a large illegal immigrant population" that uses the emergency room as a primary care facility.
Whatever the reason, the problem has to be tackled. County-USC is a county hospital where people are not turned away even if they do not have health insurance.
At their wits' end, they transfer patients to other hospitals.
But then the county must also finance the healthcare of indigent patients it transfers to private hospitals. Recently, county officials reached an agreement to pay Silver Lake Medical Center no more than $2 million a year to care for indigent uninsured patients.
County health officials cannot say whether transferring out indigent patients costs the county more than if it had built a 750-bed hospital.
Perhaps the only long-term solution is to expand County-USC, but where are the resources?
The health department faces a nearly $600-million deficit unless it can secure more federal funding.
A third world scenario in the land of Hollywood? The state of California has anyway been leading a hand-to-mouth existence for quite sometime now.