Health Inequity

April 29, 2024

Health Inequity: New Study Explores Geographic Disparities in Rates of Preventable Hospitalizations and Emergency Department Visits Across Los Angeles County

LOS ANGELES, CA — The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, in collaboration with MLK Community Healthcare (MLKCH), has released findings from a groundbreaking study examining variations in rates of potentially preventable hospitalizations and emergency department (ED) visits among adults in Los Angeles County.

The study, titled "Geographic Disparities in Preventable Hospitalizations and Emergency Department Visits in Los Angeles County," shows significant disparities throughout the County’s eight Service Planning Areas, particularly in South Los Angeles (SPA 6) and Antelope Valley (SPA 1). South Los Angeles, where MLK Community Healthcare is located, has a rate of preventable hospitalizations for all conditions that is 1.7 times that of West Los Angeles (SPA 5), which has the lowest rate.

The findings correlate with wealth differences among the SPAs. In 2021, the percentage of adults living below the poverty line ranged from 8% in West Los Angeles to 26% in South Los Angeles. Decades of underinvestment in disadvantaged communities have resulted in significant disparities not only in wealth but also in health. The percentage of individuals reporting fair or poor health status ranged from 8% in West Los Angeles to 28% in South Los Angeles.

Notably, the areas with the highest rates of potentially preventable ED visits also have the highest percentages of adults covered by Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program for individuals with limited income and resources. South Los Angeles, for example, has the highest rate among adults aged 18 and older (1,252 per 100,000) and the highest proportion covered by Medi-Cal, at 35.2%.

“To an extent we expected these findings, but we were surprised by the sharp contrast with other service planning areas in the County,” said MLKCH CEO Dr. Elaine Batchlor. “These inequities are preventable. It’s time to invest in solutions.”

Investing in health equity makes good financial sense. Preventable hospitalizations not only strain healthcare resources but also cost 2.5 to 10 times more than outpatient visits, with an estimated annual expenditure of $3.5 billion.

The key to prevention is proper disease management, which includes regular visits to primary care providers and specialists along with adherence to medications. The current high rates of preventable hospitalizations and emergency department visits in South Los Angeles and Antelope Valley show that outpatient care in these areas is not meeting the needs of the people living there.

The authors of the study recommend improving access to primary and specialty care by increasing spending in primary care, establishing new health centers in areas with shortages, and promoting team-based, community-oriented care. Additionally, health providers should prioritize developing long-term relationships with uninsured and underinsured patients.

The study also stresses the importance of increasing payments for Medi-Cal providers, as higher reimbursement rates are associated with better access to healthcare services. In California, Medi-Cal providers are paid 73 cents for every dollar paid to Medicare providers. Low Medicaid payment rates can result in fewer doctors and healthcare services for people living in areas with a high concentration of Medicaid. South Los Angeles has a physician gap of 1,500.

Since opening in 2015, MLKCH has been delivering on its promise to reinvent the way care is delivered in safety-net communities. The findings of this study highlight the crucial need to invest in proactive disease management and accessible healthcare services to lessen the impact of avoidable hospitalizations and ED visits in Los Angeles County. Findings also emphasize the significant systemic changes required to achieve this goal.

You can access the full study here.

For more information on MLKCH, please contact:

About MLK Community Healthcare: MLK Community Healthcare is an integrated healthcare delivery system that serves the medically underserved community of South Los Angeles. MLKCH offers emergency and inpatient care through its hospital, MLK Community Hospital, and primary and specialty care through the MLK Community Medical Group, with practice sites in multiple locations throughout South Los Angeles. MLKCH also offers community health education and outreach to improve the health of our community. Since its opening in 2015, the hospital and health system has earned awards and headlines for its innovative approaches to quality, safety, and patient satisfaction.





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