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USC experts assess state of health care in Southern California

Keck School of Medicine Dean Stephen J. Ryan discusses USC’s response to health care issues.USC experts assess state of health care in Southern California

The Southern California health-care system shows symptoms of strain, according to a USC report.

“One of the world’s best health-care systems is increasingly less accessible to many consumers and subject to so many financial and organizational stringencies that even health care providers are dismayed,” said geographer Michael Dear, lead editor of the Health Atlas of Southern California and director of USC’s Southern California Studies Center (SC2).

“This is a roadmap for the future of health care policy in Southern California,” said Stephen J. Ryan, USC senior vice president for medical care.

Issued Thursday, Nov. 11, by SC2, the Atlas documents the state of health of the eight-county region from San Diego to Santa Barbara-tracking trends in emergency care, infectious diseases, environmental toxins, health care finance, alternative medicine and access to health care services.

Among the findings:

· The region’s eight counties fared better than the nation as a whole in meeting Healthy People 2000 objectives, the nation’s most comprehensive and commonly used set of indicators to gauge public health.

· Geography matters. While exceeding most federal goals, the quality of public-health indicators varies dramatically from county to county. Uneven distribution of health-care resources leads to unequal access for residents.

· Acquisitions of secular hospitals by religious organizations have proven a mixed blessing, with some underserved populations enjoying improved access, but women who seek certain reproductive care are experiencing a loss in services.

· Violent crime has dropped, but the financial burden of caring for crime victims has markedly risen, straining already overburdened resources.

· Despite recent improvements, the region’s air quality ranks among the nation’s worst, contributing to a dramatic increase in respiratory ailments among children.

· Although complementary HIV drug therapies (“cocktails”) have reduced AIDS-related deaths, newly diagnosed HIV infections are increasing among women, African Americans and Latinos.

Along with the “Atlas,” SC2 issued the “1999 Scorecard of Health and Healthcare in Southern California.” The scorecard assesses 16 facets of public health in the region, determining whether conditions warrant a green light for “favorable,” a yellow light for “neutral” or a red light for “unfavorable.” Each facet received an additional grade of an arrow indicating whether the trend was improving, declining or holding constant.

The six “red light” issues for 1999 are: increasing health-care costs associated with treating victims of violent crimes; air pollution’s worsening effects on children’s health; limiting of health-care provision due to conflicts in managed care; lack of access to health care for more than a quarter (27 percent) of the region’s residents, mostly the uninsured working poor; a health- care system that is increasingly expensive and less accessible to people in need; and threats to the viability of the region’s “safety net” hospitals for the poor and the uninsured.

The three “green light” issues for 1999: improvements in meeting federal public health goals; a continued decline in Southern California’s suicide rates among most groups; and the emergence of faith-based charitable trusts to fund health care for underserved populations.

The remaining seven issues fell into the “yellow” light category. They included: trends in cancer; HIV/AIDS; alternative medicine; hospital architecture; emergency medical access; ocean water pollution; and access to reproductive services as a result of mergers between faith-based and secular hospitals.

The Atlas, the third annual report of SC2’s Metrotrends project, reflects the interdisciplinary efforts of 29 researchers from SC2; the Keck School of Medicine and its Department of Preventive Medicine; the department’s Cancer Surveillance Project; and the department’s Southern California Environmental Health Services Center.

Founded in 1995, SC2 uses Southern California as a laboratory for basic and applied urban studies.

USC provided research funding and covered publication costs for the 1999 Atlas.

USC experts assess state of health care in Southern California

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