Re-opening a Community Hospital: Union Power Trumps Patient Rights

Way back last August, I wrote about the tragic closure of Los Angeles’ Martin Luther King, Jr.-Harbor hospital, the County’s safety-net hospital for LA’s troubled Watts neighborhood. After 35 years of government mismanagement, the death of a woman abandoned on the ER floor for three quarters of an hour was a disgrace for which even the County could not shun responsibility. The County closed the hospital, promising to find a private operator to re-open in-patient services.

Seven months have passed – and still no in-patient services. What is the hold-up?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), local 721, which represents County health workers, is loath to lose representation at the hospital, if it comes under private control. I can only imagine how skittish a private hospital operator would be at having to accept this gang back into the facility, given its disgraceful record.

Another sticking point is, (as always) negotiating how much the County will pay any private operator for uninsured patients who get treated at the hospital. One of the major points I addressed in my analysis of the Schwarzenegger-Nuñez California Health Care Deforminator, ABX1 1, was how paying providers to treat uninsured patients leads to a serious malformation of health policy and providers’ incentives.

Give the money to the patients, instead, and let them decide where they want treatment. As for the union, I really doubt there’s a place for it in consumer-directed health care. Forcing the poorest of the poor to be subjected to union power, when they are at their most vulnerable, should be a source of shame for Los Angeles County.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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