Supervisors Urged to Increase Funding of Hospitals : Government: Hearings on proposed $3.7-billion county budget open with pleas on behalf of medical care for the poor.
As public hearings on the Orange County budget opened Tuesday, health care representatives urged the Board of Supervisors to increase funding to hospitals that are bearing the burden of providing free medical services to poor people.
“Get real on funding the (Medical Services for Indigents) program,” said Edward J. Foley, vice president of the Hospital Council of Southern California. “You must at least pay a fair share.”
Foley and several other speakers said demands on hospitals and other groups that provide services for the poor are increasing, while financial support from the county has dropped below the funding levels of two years ago.
The comments came as the county kicked off three consecutive days of public hearings on its proposed $3.7-billion budget for the fiscal year starting in October. The budget provides about the same level of funding for county services as in the current year, while proposing the hiring of 932 new employees. Most of those positions would be funded through state and federal grants.
On Tuesday, the board reviewed the proposed departmental budgets for the county’s Health Care and Social Services agencies. Both agencies are expected to receive slight increases over last year’s funding and staffing levels.
Under the proposed budget, the Health Care Agency’s indigent-care program is slated for a $2.25-million boost over last year’s allotment of about $31 million, officials said. That amount, however, is still below the $36 million appropriated in 1991.
“The county is doing as well as they can considering our budget restrictions,” said Herbert Rosenzweig, director of county medical services. “Most of our budget reductions have been forced upon us by the state, but the county has recognized a need for these services and has put more money to them this year. We’re doing the best we can.”
Others, however, said the county should do more.
Chauncey A. Alexander, another health care representative, asked that the county increase indigent care funds by $1.3 million. He also asked board members to allocate $255,000 for community clinics that provide for the “health-care deprived” and another $123,000 for additional 18 to 20 shelter beds for the “homeless mentally disabled on our streets.”
The board is expected to adopt the proposed county budget in late September.
Although county officials are relieved that the proposed budget does not call for the severe cuts imposed in the past two years, they said they are concerned about the uncertainty swirling around the state budget, which has been balanced with uncertain federal funding. If those federal funds are not available, the state may look to counties to make up its shortfall, they said.
County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider told the board that the county is in a stable financial position despite a “weak economy” that “continues to affect revenues.”
“We have done a lot with very little,” Schneider said.
Today the board will consider departmental budgets for public protection, environmental resources and general government. The final public hearing Thursday will cover capital improvements, debt services, insurance and revenues.