Aug 30, 2004
Three large hospitals in Los Angeles County have said they may close their ERs in the near future. Six other hospital emergency rooms serving 75,000 patients a year have already closed in the last 14 months. Most of the ERs in question are in working class neighborhoods.
Los Angeles is not alone. This is the trend throughout the country. In the state of California alone, 65 ERs have closed in the last decade. Hospital officials blame the closures on a surge in the number of uninsured patients.
Yes, there are more uninsured coming to the ERs for treatment. There are more people uninsured today. Workers who have no health insurance have little choice but to use ERs. The only places where they can get any affordable health care – county hospitals and clinics – are few and far between. In a move that greatly aggravated this crisis, L.A. County closed 11 of its 18 clinics two years ago. In many neighborhoods, ERs are the only places where uninsured workers and their families can go when sick without being turned away at the door.
As companies keep eliminating health care benefits for their workers, more and more workers and their families are left without any medical coverage. In 2003, the number of uninsured people in the U.S. increased from 43.5 million to 45 million, which is almost one out of every six Americans. In California, nearly one in five – seven million people – have no insurance. In L.A. County, one in three residents has no coverage.
In such a situation, hospitals and other health care providers should be searching for ways to expand access to medical care. Instead they shut their doors just as more people need access. Illogical yes, but quite simple: hospitals are run for profit, and ERs are not making a profit.
An official of the Hospital Association of Southern California admitted that, as a result of the ER closures, "Eventually people are going to start to die. That's basically what it amounts to."
What it amounts to is murder by neglect, carried out by a medical care system organized first of all to provide profits, and let human needs be damned!