Health care improvements took center stage at a symposium held on Oct. 5 at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif.

The first of two symposiums, organized by WesternU and Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton, focused on health care financing. A symposium on Nov. 2 will examine health care delivery.

One key to looking at health care is to realize the statistics represent individuals, not merely numbers, said WesternU President Philip Pumerantz.

“As we hear all our speakers, we must keep a sense of who are the people we’re talking about,” he said. “That is the core value of this university. The best healer is one who cares.”

Jim Lott, executive vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California, gave an overview of key health care delivery system challenges in Southern California.

The state has a severe shortage of talented, trained allied health care professionals, he said. The average age of a registered nurse working in a hospital is 48, and nurses tend to retire around age 55, he said.

For every three nurses that are retiring, only one new nurse is graduating. California has about 6,000 new nurses licensed each year, but it needs double that amount just to meet the current demand, Lott said.

Hospitals must also attract a diverse population of caretakers into the health professions.

“We now have the evidence to show that when we have people who have a linguistic and cultural relationship with the patient population that we service, we can cut as much as an entire day off of a hospital stay, just simply by providing the patients with the type of connections to people that they are familiar with,” Lott said.

Dr. James M. Lally, president and chief medical officer for Chino Valley Medical Center, talked about how his emergency room operates and how to lessen the burden on ERs.

His emergency room has a large electronic television set that shows how long each patient has been in house, he said. Doctors should be able to decide within two hours whether a patient should be admitted into the hospital or cleared to go home, which is possible if they’re focused and they go through the clinical indications of why the patient is there, said Lally, who earned his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from WesternU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific.

One important method of easing the emergency room burden is treating patients before they require emergency care. The Montclair clinic treats 35 people per day for free, Lally said.

“That’s 35 people that aren’t going to be clogging up the ER in Chino,” he said. “By taking that extra step to provide a service, we’re able to divert some of those people out of our emergency room.”

Dr. Susan Kelly, president and CEO of Charles R. Drew University, talked about the closing of what was previously known as Martin Luther King, Jr./Drew Medical Center and Martin Luther King, Jr.-Harbor Hospital.

The hospital’s emergency department and inpatient services closed in August after the hospital failed a comprehensive review by federal officials and lost federal funding. 

The south Los Angeles area has a population of 1.6 million people, with only one hospital now serving it – St. Francis Medical Center, Kelly said. It’s the largest urban underserved area in America, she said.

 “This is not an accident,” Kelly said. “This is an area that is not so much neglected as constructively abandoned.” The closure of the hospital resulted in the loss of 248 residency slots across 17 residency programs, she said. Seventy percent of doctors remain where they train, so they lost a tremendous opportunity to have doctors serving south Los Angeles, she said.

Among those lost were 26 of 28 emergency physicians who left California, maybe forever, she said. Residents in other cities might think that the hospital closure doesn’t affect them, but they’re wrong, Kelly said. South Los Angeles residents travel to surrounding cities for medical care, increasing wait times in those areas, she said. 

“This impact is not localized,” she said. “It cannot be abandoned for very much longer because it has an impact on the whole of California.”