Hospitals in the Victor Valley spend on average $4 to $6 million a year treating uninsured patients, including illegal immigrants, with the burden of this cost eventually falling to taxpayers.
How much of this expense can be attributed to illegal immigrants is unknown, primarily because hospitals do not track legal status, according to hospital administrators. The bills are often absorbed by the hospitals, taxpayers and private insuranceholders through higher premiums.
"The number of uninsured we treat, we anticipate that and plan for that on the financial side," said Randy Bevilacqua, spokesman for St. Mary Medical Center. "It's a burden we all share."
Desert Valley Hospital currently treats the highest number of uninsured patients. Of the 30,457 patients treated in the emergency room in 2005, 23 percent were uninsured, according to the latest figures from the Office of Statewide Health and Planning Development.
In this same year, Desert Valley Hospital spent more than $4 million, or nearly 6 percent of its operating expenses, on uninsured patients, said hospital Chairman Dr. Prem Reddy. Desert Valley Hospital nurse Shirley Lyons fills out paper work in the emergency room. The hospital provides care to more uninsured patients than any other hospital in the area. James Quigg / Staff Photographer "I don't know why we see the most uninsured patients," said Leuis Leon, hospital administrator. "It probably just has to do with our location. Our location is key to the (ambulance) system. We see the most number of ambulances a month, so by default we have the most number uninsured."
Leon said the Desert Valley Hospital emergency room keeps its doors open for ambulances longer than the other local hospitals.
The nonprofit Victor Valley Community Hospital treated the second highest number of
uninsured patients last year, according to OSHPD. Of the 28,858 patients treated in the Victor Valley emergency room, 18 percent were uninsured.
"This 18 percent has remained steady for the past three years," said Ray Marien, hospital spokesman.
Victor Valley Community Hospital has spent around $3 million a year, or about 7 percent of its operating expenses, on uninsured patients, according to OSHPD.
The total cost for treating the uninsured at the nonprofit St. Mary Medical Center is about $6 million a year, said Bevilacqua.
Of the 50,535 patients treated in the St. Mary emergency room in 2005, 15 percent were uninsured, according to OSHPD.
"Taking care of those who don't have insurance is part of our obligation," Bevilacqua said. "All of us end up paying for those who can't. The impact of the uninsured on health care is enormous, and it falls on all of us."
Both St. Mary Medical Center and Victor Valley Community Hospital try to recoup the money through the hospitals' foundations, which host fundraisers and charity events throughout the year. They also have financial aid programs in place to help patients make their payments.
The program at St. Mary assists around 100 patients a month who cannot afford treatment, according to Bevilacqua.
"We try to be as frugal and efficient as we possibly can. The profit in health care is very small," Bevilacqua said. "This is the same for all hospitals, not just us. We have to be careful."