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No layoffs coming for L.A. County Department of Health Services workers

A warning sign marks the COVID-19 isolation area of the emergency department at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services said Thursday that, despite a potential budget crisis in which the county could lose billions of dollars because of the coronavirus outbreak, her agency will not see any layoffs or workforce reductions.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, who previously served as the agency’s chief operations officer, said in a virtual staff-wide meeting that she’d received several questions from employees about the fiscal status of the department, the second largest municipal health system in the nation.

Ghaly said the county is projecting a shortfall, noting that Los Angeles County could see a $1-billion decline in sales tax revenue this fiscal year, which ends June 30, because of the massive economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

That decline is expected to surpass $2 billion by the end of fiscal 2021, according to county estimates released last week.

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More than 1,800 people have died across the state, with Wednesday marking the highest daily fatality total. “It’s a reminder we’re not out of the woods yet,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

Earlier in the outbreak, the county’s chief executive, Sachi A. Hamai, imposed hard freezes on hiring and purchasing and directed county department heads to prepare for “a range of potential program reductions in the coming fiscal year.”

Ghaly said that moving forward, the county Department of Human Services will be careful when making new hires. The agency’s clinical and key clinical response workforce is exempt from the hiring freeze and also can hire non-clinical positions “when it is essential that we do so.”

Ghaly said while all county workers are essential, her agency’s workforce is unique.

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The Department of Health Services oversees four hospitals, including Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and LAC+USC Medical Center, and more than 20 clinics. Through partnerships and community-based clinics, it sees 600,000 patients, employs more than 22,000 people and has an annual operating budget of $4.3 billion, according to its website. Many of its patients are either uninsured or covered by Medicaid.

“It’s critical that we continue to be at work and that we continue to provide the services that our patients and that our communities rely on,” Ghaly said. “I know that these are challenging times. I know that it’s stressful, but I want to provide people with the reassurance that you don’t have to have the added stress of wondering if there’s a layoff coming.”

Ghaly told staffers that the county might look at other cost-saving measures that might affect pay raises but that she didn’t want people to worry about layoffs because “those are absolutely not on the table.”

LAC+USC Medical Center has seen a significant decline in its patient volume since the coronavirus outbreak and Safer at Home orders from the city and county. Currently, the hospital is at 60% inpatient capacity.

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“Our hospital is typically always full, and largely that’s on purpose,” Chief Executive Jorge Orozco said. "[That’s] because we canceled elective surgeries and people are staying away from our emergency rooms. We’re trying to send a message to the community that they should come in for care if they really do need care. But with that reduction in volume comes a reduction in revenues. Yet we are not laying anyone off. So the projections in terms of our fiscal picture is concerning.”


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