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What is going to happen to King-Harbor (formerly King Drew) hospital now that the crisis has reached epidemic proportions and it may shut its doors? The latest incident in a long line of tragic medical occurrences has opened up wounds that did not even have time to heal since the last set of mishaps. The hospital has been operating amidst a continuous string of medical mishaps with no apparent accountability. It has lost all credibility with the community and now it is poised to lose its accreditation.
The County Board of Supervisors, who has official oversight of the hospital, is also in a quandary about what to do to correct King Hospital. On Tuesday, they debated and discussed it all day, but the community is still lacking medical care and there seems to be no solution in sight. The hospital may be closed shortly.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back in the latest medical mishap was the death of a woman, Edith Rodriguez, in the lobby of the hospital in plain view of hospital staff, other patients and visitors that was captured on surveillance camera. The tragedy was that no one went to the woman’s aid as she lay writhing on the floor dying.
Now it seems to come the public’s attention that previously mandated reforms were not implemented. The name was changed from King-Drew to King-Harbor but the same incompetence prevailed and remained. Tim Watkins, president of Watts Labor Community Action Center was very caustic in his comments about the situation at King-Drew—the name he referred to—hospital. He said, “It highlights the failure of the community to step up and defend our vital interest. This is about mismanagement—the government’s responsibility to the community. This is about the failure of the mainstream media to provide a balanced perspective about what is going on here. I’ve discovered, through research, that across this nation, tools are being sown up inside of patients; pharmacists are over or under subscribing medications; people are dying in waiting rooms and gross incompetence exists in some of the highest reaches of this country’s medical management system.” His words certainly struck a chord with the recent events at King and more so with it continuous gross mismanagement over the last few years.
Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who have authority over the hospital and in whose district King Hospital is, issued the following statement, “We were all disappointed with the tragedy involving Ms. Edith Rodriguez at King-Harbor Hospital, given the extensive efforts by its leadership to reform the hospital. It was a very unfortunate, horrible thing that happened. At this time, particularly when we are fighting to remain accredited and trying to remain accredited, and continue federal funding, we should do everything we can to correct problems and pass the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) survey.”
Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, in whose district the hospital is, put forth the following proposal with three components. He said, “First of all, King Hospital should be turned into a community-based hospital and the name should be changed to Freedom Community Hospital, run be a non-profit group; this can be done by the county—lease the hospital for a dollar a year to a non-profit group. Secondly, it should be a district hospital with the power to tax. Thirdly, create an authority that would include Compton, Willowbrook, Athens, Watts and surrounding county-ships with the power to govern and tax. The second and third ones have to be done by legislative enactment.”
Understanding the ramifications of his proposal, he was asked about its apparent radical nature. He continued, “First of all, there’ll be some opposition from the county, but the leadership of the assembly has come to me asking ‘what shall we do?’ because they’ve given up on all efforts to try and reform the hospital. So we have to do something totally different.” This idea, according to Dymally, means that the non-profit group will be starting from scratch.
Mother Lillian Mobley, who is a Board member of the Brotherhood Crusade and Mothers in Action, and one of the original group of community activists who fought for King Hospital to be built in South Los Angeles, was very distraught at the thought that the hospital may close its doors. She said, “It has been a 40-year struggle from the beginning when we did the petitions to get the hospital started, and it has never been able to reach its potential. It never had the resources or the support to get where we know it could go. It’s a tragedy to see where it is now. Where are the people whose trying to close it down? No one has looked at the Department of Healthcare Services that oversees all the hospitals in the County of Los Angeles, and this is the only one that is doing bad as they pretend it’s doing.”
There appears to be enough blame to go around to all the elected officials, the medical and administrative staff and the community leaders but the people in the community do not have adequate healthcare services.
Councilman Isadore Hall of Compton, whose district is in close proximity to the hospital and whose residents depend on King Hospital for their health needs spoke about the possible closure of the hospital. He said, “I’m very concerned about the recent discovery of the lady at the King Hospital. However, I’m convinced that it was perhaps another isolated incident that could be dealt with through a better management program. The services at King Hospital are definitely a need service for our area, particularly the area that I represent, which is the entire South Los Angeles area, Compton, etc. I’m very confident that in working with Congresswoman Maxine Waters and all the elected officials, and the Board of Supervisors, we can maintain services at that hospital which is so vital to the community.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. hospital was built to fulfill the health needs of the low-income community but it was a high-performance institution. It was meant to service a community that generally consisted of the underserved, the voiceless and the forgotten. What has happened to the hospital is being debated at present, and it appears that no “ones” are being held accountable for this human/medical tragedy—there are many in the hospital’s administration(s), in the government, in the medical profession and even in the community that contributed to what has happened. And the community now remains with “mal-functioning” hospital.
Watkins said it best, “When the news media has to bring to our attention the roaches and the pests at the Veteran’s Hospital in the nation’s capital, that tells us our national system of healthcare is grossly mismanaged. When it comes to King Hospital, in my opinion, it is no different than Cedars Sinai or Century City Hospital or County General or Harbor UCLA, they are all operated by human beings and they are all subjected to human errors.”