Local leaders warned Tuesday that if voters approve a ballot measure to create an independent health department in the city of Los Angeles residents would immediately lose health protections until a new agency was established, and the expense could result in tax increases or service cuts.
“This is absolutely crazy, stupid, destructive, draconian and dangerous to the public health,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky at the county Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. “I think we’ve got to tell it like it is.”
The board was discussing a proposal that will appear on the June ballot to have the city of Los Angeles create its own health department, instead of being part of the county department of health, which provides a broad base of services, including vaccinations, ocean-water monitoring and restaurant inspections.
The group that gathered signatures to put the proposal on the ballot, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has argued that the county department is a bloated bureaucracy that is not providing city residents with their fair share of services. County officials have long contracted with the foundation to provide health services to low-income people with HIV and AIDS. But now they are accusing the group of seeking to destroy the health department as revenge for the county auditing the foundation and alleging over-billing.
The supervisors and the City Council have publicly weighed in against the ballot measure, and both have voted to go to court to try to block it from appearing on the ballot. But by law the officials are constrained from launching any sort of campaign against a bond measure. The foundation, on the other hand, has deep pockets and spent more than $2 million last year supporting a measure that requires adult film performers to use condoms on the set.
So local officials appear to be trying to use their bully pulpit to fight the measure. At Tuesday’s hearing, they zeroed in on ballot measure language that they said would cause an immediate gap in coverage if approved by voters. The ballot measure gives the city 120 days to set up a health department and forbids it from contracting with the county for health services.
Miguel Santana, Los Angeles' chief administrative officer, said it would take at least two years to set up a city health department and figure out how to pay for staff, facilities and labs.
“It would be impossible to do in 120 days. It’s very challenging to do it in a year or two years,” he said.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county health department, said that since the city would be barred from contracting with the county, residents would be left vulnerable.
“There would be an immediate gap in provision of public health services,” he said. “Public health threats just won’t wait 120 days, and disease of course does not stop at the city border.”
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