L.A. County-USC is only county hospital too small for demand, report says

Of the three county-run hospitals with emergency rooms, Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center is the only one too small to meet patient demand, according to an independent draft report prepared for the Board of Supervisors. At least 97 new beds already are needed at the $1.02-billion hospital that opened less than two years ago, according to the report.

In contrast, the report obtained by the Los Angeles Times found that the county’s two other hospitals with emergency rooms have the space, but not the money, to add additional beds to meet patient demand.

The report is the latest evidence that County- USC was built far too small to handle patient demand. Last month, The Times reported that County-USC has been chronically overcrowded since moving in 2008 to a facility with 224 fewer beds than existed when the hospital’s aging, seismically unsafe building was closed.

Carol Meyer, the county Department of Health Services’ chief network officer, said her agency is still reviewing the draft report written by Omaha-based HDR Architecture, Inc.

County-USC, by far, is the county’s most packed hospital. In 2008, its emergency room saw 134,000 patients, compared with 76,000 at Harbor- UCLA Medical Center near Torrance and 47,000 at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, the report said.

According to the report, county health officials expect fewer hospitalized patients when healthcare reform, signed into law earlier this year, is implemented beginning in 2014. That assumption is based on their belief that once uninsured people — who make up about 70% of county patients — have access to insurance, many will leave the county system for private facilities.

The report’s draft was cited by some county supervisors, who Tuesday approved a motion to ask staff to develop a plan to add 150 beds at County-USC. The vote — essentially a request for information — was 4-1.

Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes the hospital, said that even if healthcare reform helps to relieve overcrowding, “it is more than likely that L.A. County-USC will need additional beds.”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the lone no vote, said he did not see how the county could afford to pay for a larger County-USC. The Department of Health Services, which runs the county hospital system, faces a nearly $600-million deficit unless it can secure additional federal funding soon.

William T Fujioka, the county’s chief executive, expressed optimism Tuesday that at least some of the federal funding will come through. But a draft of an internal budget report obtained by The Times warns that even a deficit of $279 million for the 2010-11 fiscal year could force the closure of a hospital.

Fujioka, however, said no one is seriously discussing closing a county hospital.

In fact, on Tuesday, supervisors formally approved an agreement with the University of California to reopen Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in the South Los Angeles area. The vote permits Fujioka to work with the university to create a private, nonprofit entity to run the 120-bed hospital, expected to open in 2013.