Full hospital staffing pledged

Times Staff Writer

Earlier this week, the dean at USC’s Keck School of Medicine warned of an “impending patient safety crisis” at the new County-USC Medical Center set to open next month, telling Los Angeles County supervisors in a letter that he was concerned that the hospital “will not be able to operate safely with the current staffing available.”

On Thursday, however, the dean, Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito, said that after submitting the letter, he has received assurances from Los Angeles County officials that the hospital will have the staffing it needs by Oct. 17, when patients will begin a two-day move from the old hospital to the new one.

“We’re well on our way to resolving it,” Puliafito said.

“Carmen and I, he has some concerns, but we have an absolute commitment that we’re going to address these issues,” said William T Fujioka, Los Angeles County’s chief executive.


“There will be no jeopardy whatsoever to our patient-care programs. We’re going to work with them toward filling the positions.”

County-USC, two miles east of downtown Los Angeles, has long been the linchpin of the region’s public health and trauma system.

Plans to replace the Depression-era hospital have been in the works for decades.

USC and the county are in the midst of updating an agreement under which the county pays the university to hire some of the hospital’s staff. The dean’s letter raised new questions about the readiness of the new in-patient hospital.

(There are already long-standing concerns about the new facility’s budgeted bed space, which will drop from 671 to 600, and whether it will trigger even longer waits in the emergency room.)

Although there are fewer beds overall in the new building, the new emergency room is “significantly larger,” Puliafito wrote, which increases staffing needs.

In addition, County-USC’s emergency room has been losing staff, Puliafito wrote in the letter, dated Tuesday.

Nine physicians in the emergency room have left since January for better-paying jobs elsewhere, and eight staffers who work as nurse practitioners or physician assistants have left and have not been replaced, Puliafito added.

“The pay disparity and lack of support staffing makes recruiting new physicians impossible and has already resulted in decreased efficiency and longer wait times in the emergency room,” Puliafito wrote.

“In the new, larger facility, due to the continuing staffing problems, only 87 of the 137 emergency room beds will be staffed and in use, potentially resulting in dangerously long wait times.”

In the letter, Puliafito said the hospital needs 20 additional staffers to read test results for new radiation equipment, that patient safety would suffer “as a result of lengthy wait times for diagnosis” and that a lack of additional anesthesiologists will add to existing delays.

On Thursday, Puliafito said these staffing issues had been shunted “to the back burner” in recent months.

He said he had expected the contract to be resolved two months ago.

“I really think Bill Fujioka [and the county], they’ve been working in good faith with us. We just need them to work faster, that’s all,” Puliafito said.

Puliafito said he has “been assured that we will be able to hire the people we need to staff the emergency room when we open.”

County Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes County-USC, declined to comment.

Fujioka said there are no plans to postpone the opening date of the in-patient facility.

“Opening this facility represents, I think, one of the crowning achievements for the county and the Department of Health Services,” Fujioka said.