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Hospital Renews Medi-Cal Contract

Times Staff Writer

A medical care crisis in Orange County that has seen financially strapped hospitals refuse to treat poor and indigent patients seemed to ease somewhat Thursday with an agreement by Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center to continue serving Medi-Cal patients for another year.

The hospital, one of the major Medi-Cal contractors in the area, had threatened to stop treating Medi-Cal patients at midnight because of a dispute over how much money the state reimburses the medical center for its services.

That was avoided when the hospital successfully renegotiated its contract and signed on for 12 more months, hospital administrator George Rooth said Thursday.

‘Obviously We’re Happy’

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“We reached agreement at midday today,” Rooth said. “All the little details will be worked out in the next few days.”

Rooth said that he is prohibited by state law from discussing the agreement but that he is pleased with the new contract. “Obviously we’re happy or we wouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

The Fountain Valley medical center had become the latest in a growing list of Orange County medical institutions to threaten to discontinue treating Med-Cal patients because of what hospital officials call inadequate reimbursement from the state.

UCI Medical Center in Orange, by far the largest provider of services to the county’s estimated 100,000 indigent residents, already has placed a limit on the number of pregnant women it will treat because of extreme crowding at the facility and continuing financial losses.

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UCI officials estimate that 90% of the pregnant women admitted to the medical center are poor and have received no prenatal care, and they argue that the hospital should not have to carry the burden for caring for most of the county’s indigent patients who are covered by Medi-Cal.

A move by Fountain Valley Regional Hospital to sever its Medi-Cal contract would have been traumatic to other local hospitals because about 150 babies a month are delivered there to indigent patients. Medical care officials said many of these indigent expectant mothers would probably have sought care at UCI Medical Center, even though they faced the prospect of being turned away there.

Adding to the possibility that the crisis will grow worse is the prospect of AMI Medical Center of Garden Grove reconsidering its decision to pick up some Medi-Cal maternity patients.

The hospital had agreed to begin accepting patients on a six-month trial basis beginning Friday, but officials indicated late Thursday that a final agreement had yet to be worked out.

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The hospital had expected to handle about 100 pregnancies a month that otherwise would have gone to UCI Medical Center. The arrangement would have been the first in the state in which a hospital had agreed to contract with Medi-Cal to serve only obstetrics patients for a limited time.

Anthony Abbate, senior vice president of the Hospital Council of Southern California, was quoted Thursday as saying that the development at the Fountain Valley facility “is a good sign.”

“This is the first place we’ve seen a breakthrough in the Orange County (Medi-Cal) crisis,” Abbate said. “It really took a combination of the obstetrics crisis at UCI Medical Center and the real aggressive action of a couple of legislators to turn this thing around.”


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