Where is the anger, outrage, and resolve to keep Martin Luther King (MLK) a full-service hospital? Were expressions genuine or simply utterances of people so disillusioned that thin bravado is all they have left? If the recent ex post facto L.A. County Board of Supervisors’ Beilenson hearing (state mandated) on closing in-patient and emergency services at MLK reflected community concern, restoration will occur with little support from the primary stakeholders- only a handful showed up.
Dr. Bruce Chernoff, Chief Medical Officer, recited the county’s litany on current conditions and its “intent” to reopen MLK as soon as possible. He described challenges in South Los Angeles (SLA) as “multifactorial” and said some health indicators have improved, but many have not.
Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke proclaimed, “I am totally committed to reopening MLK as a full-service hospital”, adding that even if it is difficult to recruit a manager(firm), there should be no delays in the restoration process.
Dr. Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, referenced an Endowment funded report, just released, (more on this later). He bemoaned residents now having to wait as much as twelve hours in local emergency rooms and emphasized that current conditions endanger health and hospitals. He sees a sliver of silver lining in the current MLK crisis-an opportunity for meaningful partnership strategy and accountability.
Dr. James Kyle, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, urged that MLK revamping includes reviving the King-Drew affiliation and King as a teaching hospital.
Resident Morris Griff made a somewhat ingratiating appeal to the Supervisors: “We would like to be a part of the (restoration) process......I urge you to understand that we should have a voice......I would hope that you would include us in the process....We could help to relieve your burden. (Such remarks serve to placate rather than help secure stakeholders a place at the table.) Another resident, Felicia Ford, did pose penetrating questions to the supervisors, such as, “Do you understand what you’re doing?” And, “What kind of justice are we getting?”
Tim Watson, Watts Labor Community Action Committee: “The people of SLA are exhausted by the battle. They are no longer able to come forward.” (Many disagree with this assessment.)
The California Endowment Report calls it “regrettable and shameful” that the McCone Commission’s finding of poor health conditions and medical facilities in South L.A. in 1965, still exist. Diabetes rates in SLA are 44 percent higher than elsewhere in the county, HIV/AIDS rates are 48 percent higher and the infant mortality rate 20 percent higher. And SLA has the highest percentage of children without health insurance. MLK’s ‘recurring” crises are attributed to poor medical care as well as a failure of effective governance and oversight.
Predictably, the report found that Service Planning Area (SPA) 6 in SLA is one of the poorest and most underserved communities in the nation, with desperate healthcare needs. It asserts SPA 6’s broken healthcare system has failed to meet the needs of South L.A., even prior to the closing of MLK.
Dr. Ross: “To truly improve the health of SLA residents, we must also commit to addressing the broader social determinants such as economic opportunities, education, safety and nutrition.” Recommendations for next steps are: compiling all data in a central location; quantitative and qualitative must be combined in drawing conclusions and making related decisions; maintain the role of the Advisory Group (professional healthcare specialists) and seek additional feedback to gain a community perspective; learn from current successes and build upon existing SPA 6 community assets.
We must understand the political and institutional context of the MLK crisis. For example, the Board of Supervisors would never have permitted the long-deteriorating conditions at King-Drew in any other county hospital. Race and poverty were, and are, major factors in the gross neglect of MLK, extending beyond the Board of Supervisors to county staff, and state and federal officials.
Equally egregious is the failure of SLA residents, and others purportedly concerned with improving despicable health conditions and facilities, to demand that MLK be made whole again. Blacks and Latinos are primary stakeholders, but not primary decision-makers. And class also played a significant role in MLK’s demise. The Black middle-class for instance, must come out of the hills and take a more active part in restoring MLK. This crisis will affect them as surely as their mortgages come due.
Being kind, the paltry turnout of community residents at the Board of Supervisors hearing on MLK could be considered an aberration. Admittedly, that’s a stretch, but the obvious implications are totally unacceptable.
Larry Aubry n can be contacted at e-mail