The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

South Los Angeles:
“Separate and Unequal” Health Care

Aug 16, 2021

In some of the big working-class areas of Los Angeles, the rates of people getting vaccinated are much lower than those in higher income parts of the city.

An important reason for this is the “separate and unequal” health care system, which provides little or no funding for health care in low-income working-class communities.

Almost half of the working population in Los Angeles earns close to minimum wage, and few get on-the-job health care benefits. So, most workers have little choice but to be enrolled in Medicaid, called Medi-Cal in California, which is a third-rate health insurance that provides minimal coverage.

In South Los Angeles, with a population of over a million people, there are 10 times fewer doctors on average than in surrounding communities. That means there is a serious shortage of primary care physicians and a much greater shortage of specialists. South Los Angeles also has the lowest number of hospital beds (per 100,000 people) in the entire L.A. county.

In other words, more than a million people in South Los Angeles, many of whom are essential workers, live in the middle of what professionals call a “health care desert,” with little or no access to health care. Most of these essential workers and their families don’t even have their own doctor, with whom they have an established relationship.

This lack of health care is one important reason why life expectancy in South Los Angeles is 10 years shorter than in surrounding areas, with three times more diabetes, and very high, epidemic levels of chronic heart, lung, kidney disease, addiction, and mental health conditions.

The lack of health care and the poor health of many residents then multiplied the damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the very sick were funneled to Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, a small 131-bed public hospital, with limited services: only emergency surgery is done there, the most common being amputations for diabetes patients. There is no pediatric care, no neonatal intensive care, no trauma center, no inpatient psychiatric or addiction treatment. By last January, at the height of the pandemic, MLK’s tiny 29-bed emergency room was overcrowded, packed with 104 patients, lining hallways or outdoor tents awaiting beds in the I.C.U. or medical wards.

Meanwhile, the sprawling, advanced medical centers nearby, such as UCLA and Cedars Sinai, refused to take MLK’s sickest patients, when doctors tried to transfer them. “Nobody wants their insurance,” doctors said.

Thus, the “separate and unequal” medical system condemned countless people to die needlessly.

People with preconditions fall more quickly to the virus and get sick and die more often.

While the authorities rush to blame the victims, obviously this failure to provide long term, readily available health care lies with capitalism and its for-profit non-health system.