Jan 18, 2021
In Los Angeles, which is now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the entire world, the pandemic has been made worse because there are fewer hospital beds available for the working class and poor than in most big U.S. cities.
The lack of funding is the main reason.
Since almost half of the workforce in Los Angeles is considered “low wage,” much of that workforce also has either no health insurance and has to depend on charity care, or they have second-rate health insurance such as Medicaid (called Medi-Cal in California) or insurance provided by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That second-rate insurance pays the hospitals at much lower rates than Medicare or private insurance do, and therefore most private hospitals rarely accept it.
So, these low-wage workers have to depend on the public health care system of the County of Los Angeles, whose funding has been slashed repeatedly, resulting in a drastic reduction in the number of hospital beds in the public hospitals. Thus, the main public hospital complex for the county on the eastside of Los Angeles has 40% fewer hospital beds than it had in the 1990s. As for Martin Luther King Hospital, the public hospital in South Los Angeles that was built in response to the Watts Rebellion in 1965, the number of hospital beds was slashed from 400 to only 120.
At the same time, many other community hospitals that serve working and poor people have also closed over the last several decades. Between 1995 and 2005, for example, 25 acute care hospitals in Los Angeles closed, resulting in the loss of thousands more hospital beds, even as the population of the county continued to increase.
As a result of this drastic downsizing, for a big part of the working population there has been a chronic shortage of hospital beds, and the lack of staffing to go with it, even during so-called normal times. During the current pandemic, it has meant that countless thousands of people have lost their lives as ambulances have no hospitals to take their patients, or hospitals that do serve working people plant patients in gift shops or in tents with a greatly reduced and overworked staff to take care of them.
So, in Los Angeles, which has some of the finest and most advanced medical and scientific institutions in the world, during the pandemic much of the low wage workforce is condemned to the kind of health care found in much poorer countries.