A coalition of health care providers has formed a task force to head off a potential health care crisis in East County.
The East County Access Action Team is focusing on four areas: ambulance delivery, uninsured patients using emergency rooms, clinic services and the cost of care to hospitals for the uninsured.
The team was launched at an April 4 meeting at the Brentwood Health Services Center. On hand were county supervisors Federal Glover and Mary Piepho, Antioch Mayor Don Freitas and representatives from Sutter Delta Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, John Muir Hospital, American Medical Response and La Clinica.
County Health Director Dr. William Walker led off the meeting with an overview of some of the problems facing health care providers, especially in tough budgetary times. The county clinics deal with 80,000 patient visits per month, 10,000 of them in East County.
We are, I have to say, out of capacity on any given day, and it's getting worse, said Walker. We used to run out by 10:30, and now we run out by 7:30 or 8, with people calling for same-day appointments.
One of the big strains on the health care system is that 15 percent of county residents do not have health insurance.
That's a phenomenon that will only get worse until we have a state or federal solution, said Walker. In the meantime, we are the pieces trying to hold together whatever access exists.
Sutter Delta CEO Gary Rapaport is concerned that his hospital is forced to care for more than its fair share of the uninsured, a burden he feels should be more equably shared with Kaiser Hospital and the county.
One of the challenges we face is we believe there's not enough after-hours and urgent care for patients that are uninsured, he said. They are directed to our emergency room. We are now disproportionately caring for those patients.
Sandy Small, representing Kaiser, said the hospital, which opened on Deer Valley Road in November, is also being impacted. The facility's 100 doctors and 1,400 employees cared for 800 uninsured people per month in January and February.
We are a public hospital as well as serving the Kaiser community, she said. Anyone who comes to our hospital, we serve. Our goal is to find a medical home for them.
Kaiser spent more than $70 million last year in community benefit programs, she said, some of which went to La Clinica. We try to spread our money in the community for the underserved.
Viola Lujan, a regional director for La Clinica, said the Pittsburg clinic deals with 4,000 patients and 10,000 visits annually, and wants to do more to help.
Our biggest issues are two things. she said. One is: to set up a clinic, you need startup dollars. ... The other thing we are challenged with is: the vast majority of patients are uninsured 65 percent of the patients don't have any coverage.
The task force agreed to meet to discuss these issues in more depth and make recommendations at a follow-up meeting, possibly sometime this month.