CEO Messages

Hospitals Will Be There, No Matter the Emergency

In the midst of a health care crisis, people often turn to hospitals for help — whether it’s during a pandemic, for a behavioral health problem, or any number of other kinds of emergencies.

Such is the case with the recent closure of 29 Lags Medical Centers, which operate high-volume pain management clinics in California. Because of those closures, some of your emergency departments may see high numbers of patients needing prescription refills.

While the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) is working with health plans and community organizations to create transition plans for the patients, the department anticipates that many patients may have difficulty obtaining new pain management providers and may turn to emergency departments for help.

Although the clinics were located throughout the state, a number of them are concentrated in the Hospital Council region — Alameda, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Monterey, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Stanislaus, and Tulare counties — and hospitals should be prepared to see an influx of patients seeking prescription refills given the sudden closures and the high volume of affected patients.

And given the fact that there is already a national shortage of pain management providers, this may only add to the strain on emergency departments, as patients seek bridging prescriptions to prevent withdrawal. Because patients may have difficulty finding new providers, DHCS has provided a list of resources that could be used to connect patients to additional access sites for treatment.

At the same time, as we await a full reopening of the state, hospitals must prepare for the impending mental health and substance abuse tsunami that has been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic began, mental health conditions have been exacerbated — during the last year, more kids have ended up in hospital emergency rooms for mental health conditions (up 24% for children ages 5-11, up 31% for young adults ages 12-17) — and barriers to accessing care may have worsened, likely leaving many people in need of mental health and substance use treatment.

New findings from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show that Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program beneficiaries skipped millions of primary, preventive, and mental health care visits from March 2020 to October 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. CMS also reported that while some treatments have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, mental health services have been the slowest to pick up.

With the need for mental health and substance use care only likely to increase in the coming months, it’s imperative that Californians receive behavioral health care in the most expedient way possible. The current approach to behavioral health care, which varies by county, often leaves those who are experiencing a mental health crisis in an emergency room, jail, or even struggling with homelessness. That’s why CHA is co-sponsoring (with NAMI CA) Assembly Bill 1331 (Irwin), which would establish, under the Department of Health Care Services, a full-time statewide director of crisis services. Earlier this month, the bill passed the Assembly unanimously and now moves to the Senate.

As the pandemic winds down and the state begins to reopen, we know that there will always be new challenges confronting hospitals. But no matter the emergency — pandemic, behavioral health, or anything else — your hospitals will be there to care for patients, and your Hospital Council team is here to support you.