County Studies Hospital Funding : Trauma Care Plan Lifts Hopes for Budget-Stricken Olive View

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County health officials, rushing to fill gaps that have opened in the regional emergency medical network, are considering installing a trauma center at Olive View Medical Center, which until recently was slated for drastic spending cuts.

The Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Commission on Wednesday endorsed a proposal to upgrade the Sylmar hospital's emergency room to trauma-center standards to provide care for the San Fernando Valley's seriously injured or ill.

The final decision will rest with county supervisors.

"It's been quite a month around here," Olive View administrator Douglas Bagley said Thursday. "One week they're going to convert you to a nursing home, and the next week they're going to make you into a trauma center."

In May, the county's chief administrative officer recommended deep slashes in the budgets of all county hospitals. In Olive View's case, $17 million would have been cut. But the subsequent discovery of surplus state funds in Sacramento has relieved budget pressures on the county.

The county supervisors, who are deliberating this week on next year's budget, are expected to give Olive View most of its $52-million request, which does not include trauma center funds.

Almost all hospitals maintain emergency rooms, but to meet county standards as trauma-care centers they must have a wide range of equipment, keep a surgeon on duty 24 hours a day and have specialized surgeons on call.

Because trauma centers offer a higher level of emergency service, paramedics usually bring the most serious cases to the centers.

In June, St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank withdrew from the trauma network, citing heavy financial losses caused by large numbers of uninsured patients using the trauma center. St. Joseph's withdrawal left the San Fernando Valley with two trauma centers--Northridge Hospital Medical Center and Holy Cross Hospital in Mission Hills.

Virginia Hastings, head of trauma-care services for the county Department of Health Services, said she saw no reason not to convert Olive View's emergency room to trauma care as soon as possible.

Cost in Millions

Bagley declined to estimate the cost of the conversion but said it would amount to millions of dollars a year--"not a one-time cost."

Because Olive View, destroyed in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, was rebuilt and reopened 20 months ago, most of its equipment is new "so we probably would not have to buy much to become a trauma center," Bagley said.

However, an undetermined number of beds would have to be added to treat trauma patients after they leave the emergency room, he said. The hospital's 270 beds are " constantly filled, leaving us no slack," Bagley said.

If funds are available, Bagley estimated the hospital could be operating as a trauma center in one year.

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