During the California Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee on Health and Human Services hearing earlier this month, Dr. Howard Backer, director of the state’s Emergency Medical Services Authority, indicated that the administration currently has no plan to maintain three emergency mobile field hospitals in the next fiscal year.

These field hospitals can be deployed anywhere around the state in response to disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, fires or other public health emergencies. In addition, EMSA reported that it removed the sole mobile field hospital from Southern California in an effort to reduce costs.

“It’s surprising to me that there’s no proposal in the budget to make sure these hospitals remain available for when disaster strikes,” said Sen. Bill Emmerson, vice chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee. “And it’s incredible that Southern California’s only mobile field hospital was removed, considering the region’s history of earthquakes, floods and fires.”

According to Emmerson, state funding for the program was about $1.7 million. General Fund money had been removed two years ago, according to Backer.

Since then the funding has been piecemeal, but was going to disappear in June at the end of fiscal 2012-13. “We’ve been scraping together funds to maintain the program for the past two years,” he acknowledged. “As of June 2013, we can’t continue the current arrangement.”

However, Backer said that the agency has evaluated several alternatives, including reducing costs, which is why the Southern California mobile hospital has been transferred to Northern California.

EMSA recently received approval to use some federal grant funding to keep the assets and physical equipment. One hospital would be deployed rapidly in event of an emergency and the other two would follow, according to Backer.

“This is a short-term solution to sustain the assets,” Backer stressed. “Long-term we need higher levels of preparation.”

“I fully support the governor’s commitment to keep California on a sound fiscal footing, and I don’t believe that funding these mobile hospitals undermines that commitment,” Senator Emmerson added. “When the governor updates his budget proposal in May, I hope that he reconsiders the need to prepare for emergencies.”