Aug 6, 2007
For L.A. County’s uninsured, the long waits to see specialty physicians have gotten even longer since the county closed parts of King hospital in South L.A. last year.
Even before the county downsized the hospital, it took months to see a specialist at King. Now the patients have to be referred to other county hospitals, which are also overwhelmed. Depending on the illness, the wait can be as long as two years – not to mention that patients also have to travel significantly farther, many of them by bus.
It’s no different for patients who may be in severe pain or in need of surgery. The Los Angeles Times found that, at county hospitals, there is a year-long backlog for surgeries deemed “non-emergency,” such as gallbladder and hernia, among others. As a clinic administrator put it, “If it’s not life-threatening when we start, it certainly could be when we finish.”
None of this is any surprise. For health care, the only places the vast majority of the county’s uninsured can afford to go are county-funded clinics. But these clinics don’t have the capability to provide specialty care, so patients are referred to one of the five county hospitals – including King, which is already severely downsized. So that’s less than five hospitals for the county’s over two million uninsured residents!
County officials don’t even pretend they’ll do something about it. “In our system, waiting is just a reality,” said a spokesman of the county’s Department of Health Services to the L.A. Times. He even suggested that the long waits showed the county’s strategy of moving patients from emergency rooms to clinics was working!
The county officials’ excuse for tearing apart King, which may soon be closed down altogether, was the poor quality of care. Yes, the care has been poor, because county officials never intended for it to be good – not at King, and not in any other part of L.A.’s county-run health care system.