State auditors reported Thursday that Los Angeles County cannot prove it has properly used money from a special tax to provide emergency medical services.
Auditors examined the county's use of revenue from Measure B, a parcel tax approved by voters in 2002 to maintain and expand the network of trauma centers and other emergency medical services, and to prepare to respond to acts of bioterrorism.
Auditors concluded that the county should contract with the American College of Surgeons to undertake a comprehensive assessment of its trauma care system and look at ways to better serve areas including Malibu, the eastern San Gabriel Valley, and large swathes of the Antelope Valley that don't have nearby trauma centers.
In Malibu, for instance, residents are about 20 miles from their nearest trauma facility, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood. For residents of Pomona, the nearest trauma center is 28 miles away at County-USC Medical Center.
State Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) called for the audit last year, arguing that the San Gabriel Valley was getting shortchanged on Measure B spending.
He praised the audit findings, which included a recommendation that the county increase its efforts to open a trauma center in the east San Gabriel Valley.
"The San Gabriel Valley community has gone far too long without a trauma center and adequate emergency room funding," he said in a statement issued Thursday.
In the mid-1980s, there were 22 trauma centers throughout the county to serve victims of gunshot wounds, car crash injuries, burns and other serious injuries. Over a five-year period, many of them shut their doors due to loss of funding, prompting county officials to introduce the parcel tax measure as a way to save the remaining centers.
County officials disagreed with the audit's findings, saying that they have used the money to address the county's most pressing needs, including adding two new private trauma centers and expanding air ambulance services round the clock in the San Gabriel Valley.
In a response to the report, Dr. Mitchell Katz, head of the county's health services division, wrote that while the number of annual trauma incidents countywide has increased since 2002, the rate of patient deaths has decreased.
Katz questioned the report's characterization of Malibu as an "underserved" area.
"When you choose to live in Malibu because it's not near other things, it's not surprising that you don't have a trauma center," he said Thursday.
Noting that some California counties do not have trauma centers at all, Katz said he agreed that it "would be ideal" to open one in the San Gabriel Valley, but that doing so could be hard for hospitals in the area.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times