Relief, uncertainty at county hospital after healthcare ruling
After the Supreme Court upheld the heart of President Obama’s healthcare law Thursday, hospital administrators at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar said the ruling brought relief for their patient population, about two-thirds of which is uninsured.
The hospital, which draws patients largely from the San Fernando Valley but also from North Hollywood and Antelope Valley, has seen increasing numbers of emergency room visits in recent years, something administrators attributed to the loss of jobs and healthcare coverage during the economic downturn. In the last four years, ER visits have increased about 30% to 4,383 per month.
Like many hospitals, Olive View began interim efforts to implement the healthcare law, which is scheduled to take full effect in 2014.
Since 2010, the hospital has enrolled about 7,000 patients in Healthy Way L.A., a county program that acts as a bridge to healthcare reform by introducing patients to practices they will see when they are eligible for coverage -- things like having a primary care doctor and a staff available to arrange consultations.
But the court’s ruling also presents a new set of challenges for the hospital, the largest of which is how to stay competitive when patients have the option to get care elsewhere -- a choice many have never had before.
“Our patients, many of them, will have a choice of healthcare providers for the first time … and there is some risk for us there,” said Dr. Mark Richman. “But it will continue to inspire the important changes we are making here.”
“Our goal,” he continued, “is to become the provider of choice in our geographic community and to be able to compete with private facilities in terms of quality of care so that we can keep the patient population we care for so much.”
The makeup of that population could also change as the healthcare reform is implemented. A number of patients at Olive View are undocumented and will not quality for the federal government’s program.
“If people opt to get their care through other providers then the question is, ‘How do we support the population that is left here?’ said Azar Kattan, an associate hospital administrator. “I think it raises a lot of questions about how does the department cope financially.”
--Esme Bermudez at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar
Photo: Patients check in at the emergency room at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times