California is on my mind this week. Tuesday’s Dispatch highlighted extreme pricing differences for identical procedures at California Pacific Medical Center. Today, I turn my winter gaze to Los Angeles where COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked to alarming levels in January.
A recent New York Times article chronicles COVID-19 care at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, a new but small 138-bed hospital serving low-income communities in South Central LA. During January, MLK treated more COVID-19 patients than much larger and more prestigious nearby hospitals.
Compromised COVID-19 treatment became routine at MLK: no convalescent plasma; limited monoclonal antibodies; no extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO); limited kidney dialysis; no external lung machines; limited specialized staff; no experimental treatments. One afternoon, 104 patients overwhelmed MLK’s 29-bed emergency room, many awaiting admission into the hospital’s overcrowded ICU.
Committed caregivers worked 12-hour shifts in “war zone” conditions. Despite their heroic efforts, 86% of MLK’s COVID-19 patients on ventilators died, well above the national averages.
LA County’s most impoverished residents have died from COVID-19 at four times the rate of its wealthiest residents. Only 4% of MLK’s patients carry commercial health insurance. Better-equipped hospitals refused to admit MLK’s sickest patients for advanced COVID-19 treatments. Draw your own conclusions.
When access to appropriate care diminishes, more people die. As exhibited in LA County, U.S. healthcare’s inability and/or unwillingness to equitably treat COVID-19 patients has dramatically increased the disease’s virulence. The human toll caused by this medical malfeasance is catastrophic. When will we ever learn?
Read all dispatches from Dave Johnson here.