Los Angeles County health officials said Wednesday that they need to hire more than 700 new nurses to shore up and sustain the county's medical system in the new Obamacare world.
The Department of Health Services presented a report to the Board of Supervisors on a hiring plan that was included in the county's proposed budget released last month.
The report said the additional nurses are needed to help improve the quality of care for patients and reduce wait times, a "key element" of the department's strategy to attract and keep paying patients after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act this year.
The federal health law provides insurance for many people who never had health coverage before and often relied on the county or local clinics for medical care.
Patients used to come to the county "because they really had no other choice," county Chief Executive William T Fujioka said when presenting the proposed budget last month. The proposed $26-billion budget is the first real growth budget for the county since the recession.
Fujioka said the most critical concern for the county this year was improving its medical system so it can retain the newly insured patients.
"They now have choices. We have to become the facility of choice," he said.
In the proposed budget, the Department of Health services added 737 nursing positions at a cost of $17 million as part of the first year of a four-year plan to use fewer temporary workers at county facilities.
The county's medical system is the second-largest in the nation, with four hospitals and 19 regional clinics.
Currently the department meets its required staffing ratios by using temporary and overtime workers, which is not cost-efficient or good for patient care, said Dr. Christina Ghaly, deputy director of strategic planning with the Department of Health Services.
Addressing the board Wednesday, she said that having permanent staff would lead to "higher quality care and a higher level of patient experience."
The plan calls for hiring an additional 357 workers in 2015 and 118 the following year.
Maria Berotte, a nurse at Hubert H. Humphrey Comprehensive Health Center, said that hiring more nurses was the only way to retain patients and maintain a sustainable county workforce.
"Spending on staffing is a fiscally sound issue," she told the board during the public comment period.
In fiscal year 2012-13 the department spent $43 million on nurse registry staff and $29 million on nursing overtime. The department's plan aims to reduce both by 80% over the next four years. That would amount to a savings of approximately $52 million by the end of fiscal year 2017-18, according to the report.
The department plan to recruit at job fairs and open houses at local colleges over the next year and to expedite the application and hiring process.
The supervisors had frozen the hiring process pending the information they received Wednesday.