LOS ANGELES – Antelope Valley Hospital announced Tuesday it has filed a claim against Los Angeles County for failing to allocate billions of tax dollars intended for trauma centers throughout the county.
Attorneys for the hospital, McNicholas & McNicholas and The Sutton Law Firm, filed the claim April 13 against the County of Los Angeles and the board of supervisors for failing to properly administer and allocate money earmarked for trauma centers for nearly a decade – funds provided through property tax revenue per Measure B. [Read the claim here.]
AV Hospital representatives and attorneys held a media conference in Los Angeles Tuesday morning, saying their claim is a precursor to a lawsuit that will seek “economic damages and other appropriate relief” on behalf of AV Hospital.
Administrators said that Antelope Valley Hospital serves 5 percent of Los Angeles County’s population, but receives less than any other trauma and non-trauma center in the county – which is less than half of 1 percent of all Measure B funds annually.
“Based on the state auditor’s report issued in February 2014, and based on the intentions of Measure B funds, we believe that we’ve been shorted at Antelope Valley Hospital in excess of $10 million per year,” AV Hospital CEO Dennis Knox said at Tuesday’s press conference. “At Antelope Valley Hospital we serve over 1/20th of the trauma patient volume in L.A. County, and we receive less than 1/200th of the funding.” [Read the state auditor’s report here.]
Officials at Tuesday’s conference explained that Measure B, approved by voters in November 2002, assesses taxes to fund the county’s trauma centers and emergency medical services.
AV Hospital’s claim was filed following a state audit that criticized the county for consistently failing to conduct comprehensive assessments of its trauma system and for failing to use Measure B funds to address the county’s most pressing trauma needs.
Dr. Larry Stock, Medical Director of the AV Hospital Emergency Department, told members of the media on Tuesday that the hospital must pursue the much-needed funds to pay for the resources it needs to care for its patients.
“We need to have adequate resources that provide safe care to continue to provide exceptional quality and to do all of this in a timely way. In order to do that, we need the resources to provide the staff, services and infrastructure,” Dr. Stock said. “So, it is our duty to go after funds that we are entitled to under the law in order to help our patients.”
Given the hospital’s very thin margin of profitability, Knox said other areas of operations would suffer at the facility if the county continued to short their fair share of Measure B funding for emergency services.
“We have a very thin margin when it comes to profitability of the hospital,” he said. “This past fiscal year our bottom line was $600,000 on a $300 million budget. The ER and trauma service at the urgent and emergent needs of the citizens of the Antelope Valley are paramount, and so we do have to reallocate funds continuously to ensure that there is high quality patient safety in the emergency department and trauma services. Now that obviously takes away from other areas of the hospital.”
Patrick McNicholas, Partner at McNicholas & McNicholas, reiterated the purpose of the press conference, saying that the time has come for AV Hospital to stand up for the funding that it is legally entitled.
“The harm inflicted on AV Hospital and its community is exactly what Measure B was trying to prevent when it was enacted,” McNicholas stated.
According to a February 2014 California State Auditor letter to the governor, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors allocates Measure B funds to reimburse the county’s 14 trauma centers for treatment of patients who are unable to pay for their care and who have no third party insurance coverage.
State Auditor Elaine M. Howle recommended in the letter to the governor that Los Angeles supervisors reassess their allocation approach to show that the county is fulfilling Measure B’s intent. [Read the letter here.]
“The board has not reassessed its approach to allocating Measure B funds in roughly a decade, hindering its ability to demonstrate that it has fulfilled the intent of the measure, which, according to board documents, includes assisting hospitals in under-served areas become trauma centers,” Howle reported in 2014.
According to Knox, the hospital has exhausted all other efforts to resolve the proper allocation of Measure B funds, and they are simply asking Los Angeles County to follow the law.
“The present situation is just unsustainable,” Knox said. “This is especially in consideration that the population growth in the Antelope Valley continues to increase and the fact that we are the only trauma center within a 50-mile radius of the Antelope Valley. We’re not taking this action today lightly at all.”
McNicholas explained that the hospital is currently following procedural requirements with its claim before filing the lawsuit.
“So, the expiration of the governmental claim, which will be in 60 days, or if the county denies the claim, then at that point and time a lawsuit will be filed,” he said.
Previous related story: AV Hospital files claim against L.A. County