Supervisors must revive ailing trauma network

By Senator Scott Wilk

Modern medicine has been a godsend in all of our lives. We can live longer, feel better and do more with the advances of today’s medical world. Things previously unimaginable are now routine thanks to innovations in healthcare and technology. But if we can’t get to a doctor when we need one, in our most dire hour, when life and death hang in the balance, then what good is any of it really?

In 2002, Los Angeles County voters, realizing the importance of our region’s network of trauma hospitals – those facilities equipped to handle the most pressing and extreme medical issues – approved Measure B; a 3 cent per square foot tax on property improvements to fund the trauma network.

Our nation had just suffered the biggest attack on our soil ever. The horrific acts of September 11 the previous year had left L.A. County residents wondering if our trauma network could handle such an attack should one happen here. In response to the assertion from county officials and third party evaluators that the current network was insufficient, L.A. County voters took action at the polls that November, approving the tax to rescue our failing trauma system.

Fifteen years later, our trauma system remains inadequate and some areas of the county are grossly underserved and even entirely unserved by the current network. Measure B was a widely successful effort in its ability to raise funds. Nearly $4 billion have been raised since the inception of the tax with $250 million rolling in each year. But in its administration of these funds the County has failed miserably to fulfill the promises made by Measure B.

In a glaring show of favoritism the County Board of Supervisors each year gives over 75 percent of Measure B funds, or roughly $190 million, to only three hospitals; each run by the county itself and each located in the central Los Angeles area. Ultimately giving the money all to itself, the county has shown that L.A. lives matter and those in the Antelope Valley, and other underserved areas, do not.

In the Antelope Valley we have but one trauma center. One place to go when emergency strikes. One place for the over 500,000 residents it serves. The problem? Antelope Valley Hospital was built to see about 36,000 emergency visits per year; it now sees over 113,000 annually and accounts for more than 12 percent of trauma and emergency visits in Los Angeles County.

That being the case, you’d think they receive around 12 percent of Measure B funds to offset the costs of serving such a disproportionate number of these patients. Not so; AV Hospital receives roughly 0.5 percent of Measure B funds, or around $1 million, annually.

But this isn’t an isolated instance of Measure B misallocation impacting residents. In Malibu a patient in need of serious help would have to travel over 20 miles on surface streets to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to receive care. Likewise, in the East San Gabriel Valley, residents must be transported up to 25 miles to the nearest trauma center, often by helicopter as traffic can make the drive more than an hour.

These aren’t horror stories. This is real life for residents in one of the most developed and advanced counties in the nation, this is truly unacceptable. Measure B was meant to remedy these scenarios; it hasn’t. The County and the Board of Supervisors have not lived up to their end of the deal in their administration of these funds.

While gains have been made in some areas and Measure B no doubt aided that progress, improvements have been few and far between and a more equitable dispersal of these funds could bring new trauma centers to underserved regions and bolster those hospitals like AV Hospital who see too many patients and receive too little help.

But the County has resisted such change despite myriad attempts to push for more even distribution of the funds. Previous legislators, the California State Auditor, private citizens and individual hospitals have all called on the Board of Supervisors, the body responsible for doling out Measure B funds, to right this wrong, all to no avail. I too now join those ranks as I implore the Board to rework this funding scheme to ensure our trauma system survives so that we can too.