May 12, 2003
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is proposing big cuts in the county's health care system, including the closure of Rancho Los Amigos, the county's main hospital treating spinal cord and head injuries. In total, the cutbacks may result in as many as 2500 layoffs – more than 10% of the county's health care work force.
These hospitals and clinics are the only places where uninsured workers and their families can afford to get any kind of health care.
Community groups have gone to court to stop the cuts. A federal judge temporarily stopped the closure of Rancho, on the basis that this would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. County officials have already countered the judge's decision; if they can't close Rancho, they say, they will cut services at other clinics and hospitals, including trauma centers that were supposedly "saved" by tax increases last fall. County supervisors say that cuts in state and federal funding leave them no other choice.
Certainly, federal and state governments have been busy slashing programs that serve the population, such as welfare, education and health care. But this is not caused by a lack of funds – when the Bush administration obviously has billions of dollars to spend on the war on Iraq, while giving a trillion-dollar tax cut to the richest Americans.
The state and county have been dismantling the public health care system for years – long before the current so-called "budget crisis" began. From 1995 to 1998, for example, the county eliminated 750 beds. At County-USC, where 100 beds are to be cut, the number of beds has already plummeted from 1200 about 15 years ago to 745 today – when the need for these beds was soaring. In court statements, the hospital's doctors have described the conditions that are already deplorable: patients having to wait four days for a bed, some even dying before getting treatment; an overcrowded ER where patients have to wait 16 hours and get examined in the hallways, etc.
The attack on the public health care system is another front in the war waged by the bosses on the workers, with all the layoffs and concessions we are supposed to accept because "there's no money."
There is money – there is enormous wealth in this country and workers create it. The problem for workers is to decide to do what's needed to get it.