CA spent millions on hospitals for few patients

Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, May 21.

About $26 million for 426 patients

Gov. Gavin Newsom tours the Sleep Train Arena, former home of the Sacramento Kings basketball team in Sacramento on Monday, April 6, 2020. The arena is being transformed into a 400-bed emergency field hospital to help deal with the coronavirus. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo/Pool
Gov. Newsom tours the Sacramento Kings basketball team’s former arena on April 6. The arena was transformed into a 400-bed emergency field hospital. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo/Pool

One big sign that the worst of the coronavirus outbreak in California is over — at least for now: Nearly all of the alternate care sites set up to handle a projected surge in coronavirus patients have closed or will close in the next few months, the state announced Wednesday.

Many are closing without having treated a high volume of patients, which means the shelter-in-place strategy worked. But it also means quite a lot of taxpayer money was spent on hospital beds that remained mostly empty.

For example:

  • 65 patients have been treated at the so-called “Los Angeles Surge Hospital,” formerly St. Vincent Medical Center, for which the state paid nearly $15 million, said Rodger Butler, spokesperson for the California Health and Human Services Agency. The facility will close by June 30.
  • 354 patients have been treated at Seton Medical Center in Daly City, for which California has paid $10.4 million, Butler said. It will also close by June 30.
  • Seven patients have been treated at the field hospital set up in the Sacramento Kings’ former basketball arena, for which the state paid $1 million. The facility will close at the end of May.
  • 77 patients were treated on the USNS Mercy naval ship, which left Los Angeles last week to return to its home port of San Diego. (The state only had to pay some “associated costs,” said Cal OES public information officer Bryan May.)

That’s more than $26 million for about 426 patients (not counting the USNS Mercy). In hindsight, some may wonder if the state squandered resources. But at the outset of the pandemic in March, when predictions swirled that 56% of Californians could be infected with coronavirus in a few months, the state was scrambling to ensure it wouldn’t end up with overflowing hospitals like New York and set a goal of obtaining 50,000 hospital beds.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 19: “Let’s not regret. Let’s not dream of regretting, go back and say, ‘Well, you know what, we coulda, woulda, shoulda.’ Not when the data all points to where I think most of us know we’re going.”

Not all alternate care sites are being shut down. A federal medical station is being deployed to Imperial County, which has the highest per-capita hospitalization rate in the state and which has two hospitals that turned away new coronavirus patients Tuesday after admitting an influx of patients from Mexico.

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The Bottom Line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 81,795 confirmed coronavirus cases and 3,334 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

Other stories you should know

1. Newsom’s revised budget cuts over $1 billion for early childhood programs

Image via iStock

Despite his nickname of “Governor Dad,” Newsom’s revised budget proposal contains more than $1 billion in cuts and takeaways for early childhood programs, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports. The budget no longer features Newsom’s ambitious plan to create 20,000 new preschool seats and offer more child care subsidies to low-income working families. And a proposed 10% reduction in the daily rate California would pay providers for subsidized preschool and child care programs has raised concerns that some providers might lower enrollments or shutter altogether.

  • Steven Barnett of the National Institute for Early Education Research: “It’s the long-term consequences that don’t seem to get taken into account, that children will start school less well-prepared, that our achievement gaps will widen.”

2. Remember all that talk about building more housing? It’s back … and scaled back

A luxury apartment complex in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles on Aug. 7, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California lawmakers vowed that 2020 would be the year the state got serious about building more housing. They took a step toward that goal on Wednesday, when Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins unveiled a series of proposals to make it easier for developers to build housing, including:

  • Eliminating single-family-only zoning statewide
  • Allowing developers to build higher and tighter if they reserve more units for low-income housing
  • Allowing homebuilders to bypass environmental reviews for certain projects, including converting retail spaces (remember those?) to housing

But Atkins admitted that the pandemic had forced her to scale back some housing ambitions, especially funding lower-income housing. 

  • Atkins: “Things have altered, and we had to pivot a bit because the world looks very different today.” 

3. Want more data about coronavirus in California? Look no further

Check out CalMatters’ redesigned coronavirus “By the Numbers” dashboard. It’s chock-full of information, including:

  • A breakdown of positive cases and deaths by ethnicity, gender and age. 
  • Weekly testing averages to track California’s progress toward its goal of 60,000 to 80,000 daily tests.
  • The state’s inventory of resources like face masks and ventilators.
  • How many hotel and motel rooms have been acquired for homeless Californians and how many are occupied.
  • California’s progress toward 20,000 contact tracers.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California has seen strong population growth for the past 170 years, but new data indicate that we may be reaching our population peak and could begin seeing a drop — and potentially lose a seat in Congress.

Invest in California’s independent colleges: The state’s 85 nonprofit colleges and universities award 20% of undergraduate degrees and more than 50% of graduate degrees, and are better positioned to graduate low-income students than public colleges, argue Kristen Soares, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, and co-authors.

Unleash private enterprise: Here are four things Newsom could do to jumpstart the economy and help California’s 1.4 million family businesses, writes Ken Monroe, chair of the Family Business Association of California.

Reimagining recycling: California’s declining recycling rate should concern everyone. Now is the time to invest in new technologies to reach our goal of a 75% recycling rate by 2020, argues Tim Shestek, senior director for state affairs with the American Chemistry Council.

Other things worth your time

Despite having one of California’s highest death rates, Tulare County vows to reopen into stage 3. // The Los Angeles Times

Inside the fight between Trump and California over opening churches amid the pandemic. // The Los Angeles Times

Last student standing? A coronavirus diary from a UC Berkeley student who sheltered in place on campus. // CalMatters College Journalism Network

The University of California becomes the nation’s largest university to fully divest from fossil fuels. // The Los Angeles Times

Legislators call for Calbright, the state’s online community college, to be eliminated amid coronavirus budget cuts. // EdSource

More than 40% of California counties don’t meet the state’s contact tracing requirement to reopen. // Palm Springs Desert Sun

Proposed legislation would track how coronavirus is impacting California’s LGBTQ community. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Bolinas, a “tiny hippie enclave north of San Francisco,” tested its entire town for coronavirus. What did it learn? // The New Yorker

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See you tomorrow.

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