The Antelope Valley’s High Desert Hospital got at least a temporary reprieve in the budget adopted by Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday, but UCLA/Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar was hit by stiff cutbacks in outpatient services.
County health clinics in the San Fernando Valley and northern part of the county still face possible closure.
After months of talk about a possible shutdown, the news that High Desert Hospital in Lancaster would receive enough money to continue operating at least a portion of its inpatient services was greeted with caution by its administrator, William Fujioka.
“I’m real pleased,” said Fujioka. “It looks like we got full funding for inpatient services, but we are still concerned about the number of jobs that are going to be lost due to other reductions.”
Fujioka said he did not know how many layoffs there would be at the hospital, which employs about 800 people, but the number would be “significantly” less than the 550 the hospital had been preparing to make.
As was expected, Olive View took a significant cut. Its outpatient services will be reduced by about three-quarters to save $13.6 million.
Among other budget-related developments in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys:
* The area avoided the closure of libraries or county parks, including popular El Cariso Regional Park in Sylmar, one of the largest and most popular in the county system.
* An unknown number of the area’s nine health centers and clinics will be closed by Oct 1. The locations will be determined later.
* The board imposed an entertainment tax on amusement parks in county areas, including Magic Mountain near Valencia and Universal City. The tax is expected to raise about $2.7 million.
* Still undetermined was the fate of five local juvenile offender camps run by the county Probation Department. The supervisors are depending on state funds--which have yet to be approved by the Legislature--to keep the camps open.
The budget, particularly that of the health department, hinges on a number of similar gambles, including whether the county will receive $179 million in federal Medicare funds, and whether Gov. Pete Wilson approves the county’s use of $75 million in transportation money for other purposes.
“This is risky. We are taking a gamble,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes most of the San Fernando Valley. “We realize the precipice we are on.”
If the expected revenue does not materialize, High Desert Hospital could be in line for additional cuts--including possible closure. Olive View could also face being shut down.
“If we don’t get some help from the state and federal governments, we’re going to have real problems,” said Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district includes portions of the northern San Fernando Valley as well as the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.
To attempt to save additional clinics, the health department will seek out private organizations to run some of the county’s 39 health centers and clinics. The county will only keep 10 clinics open.
The health clinics that are kept will survive in part based on geography, health officials said, so the San Fernando Valley will likely keep at least one of its seven clinics, and the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys will also be allowed to keep their clinics.
The budget plan approved by the supervisors restores $24 million to High Desert Hospital.
Antonovich said the money will allow the Lancaster hospital to operate for the next 12 months. During that time, he said, the hospital will seek arrangements with private hospitals and companies to provide health care to the area’s poor and uninsured to save county funds.
A contingent of High Desert Hospital employees has been showing up at supervisors’ meetings since early June, when the hospital was on the original closure list submitted by the county Department of Health Services to trim the department’s $655-million budget gap.
The employees rode buses for more than an hour and chose to dress in orange because, they said, it was eye-catching and happened to be the same color of the poppy blooms that grow wild in the hills of the Antelope Valley.
On Tuesday, a group of six employees said their activism and vigilance might have helped save the hospital.
“They can’t really miss us sitting here,” said Linda Hicks, a speech pathologist who made the trip six times. “We think we made a difference.”
“We’re happy,” added hospital employee Daisy Santos. “We’re happy because we’re open, at least for now.”
* MAIN STORY: A1