Antelope Valley Hospital has filed a legal claim accusing Los Angeles County officials of shortchanging the medical facility on special tax revenue intended to support costly trauma centers.
Measure B — a parcel tax passed by voters in 2002 — raises roughly $250 million a year to help fund the county's 14 trauma centers, which are special emergency room units staffed and equipped to treat patients who are critically injured in shootings, car crashes and other incidents.
In a claim filed Monday, administrators from the Lancaster hospital allege that the $1 million they receive each year is disproportionately low, especially amid rising patient numbers. They say that could force the hospital to cut services that are vital to the community.
"Does L.A. County think lives in the Antelope Valley are less important?" the trauma department's medical director, Dr. Pavel Petrik, said at a news conference Tuesday.
County spokesman Dave Sommers said county officials hadn't yet reviewed the claim, so he could not comment. A claim is an administrative action required before a lawsuit can be filed against a government entity.
The hospital's action comes after a state audit last year criticized Los Angeles County for failing to provide sufficient oversight of Measure B funds.
Auditors concluded that more than 75% of the $255 million generated by the tax goes to three county-run public hospitals, while 16% goes to 12 non-county-operated trauma centers.
County officials set funding levels several years ago and could not prove that Los Angeles County was using the money in the most appropriate manner, the audit said.
Antelope Valley Hospital, a public medical center that is not run by the county government, treats 900 to 1,000 trauma patients a year. Administrators say that it has been shortchanged $10 million a year.
"The present situation is unsustainable," said hospital Chief Executive Officer Dennis Knox. He said he wants the county to "simply follow the law."
Measure B was approved by voters to maintain and expand the county's network of trauma centers and other emergency medical services, and to prepare to respond to acts of bioterrorism.
In the mid-1980s, there were 22 trauma centers in Los Angeles County, but many shut down because of funding problems, prompting county officials to introduce the tax measure as a way to save the remaining centers.
When the state audit was released last year, county officials said they believed they had used the funding wisely by adding two new private trauma centers in the county.
Measure B did not specify a formula for how money should be allocated to each hospital, nor that a hospital's funding must correspond with patient numbers.
Jennifer Bayer, vice president for external affairs for the Hospital Assn. of Southern California, said Measure B has realized its goal of stabilizing and supporting the county's trauma system.
"Overall, I would point to measure B as a success," Bayer said. She added that she hadn't heard similar complaints from other hospitals that receive Measure B funding.
The county government has 60 days to respond to Antelope Valley Hospital's claim before the period to file a lawsuit begins.