Federal Inspectors Terminate Funding for King-Harbor Hospital
CMS officials on Friday announced that Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, which serves one of Los Angeles' lowest-income neighborhoods, no longer will be eligible to receive $200 million in federal funding after failing two inspections, the Los Angeles Times reports (Ornstein et al., Los Angeles Times, 8/11).
In a letter to the hospital, CMS said that "repeated certification surveys and complaint investigations have identified serious health and safety violations and documented the hospital's inability to comply with these federal standards" (Steinhauer/Morris, New York Times, 8/11).
CMS found the hospital fell below minimum federal standards in eight out of 23 areas assessed in an inspection last month (Los Angeles Times, 8/11).
Bruce Chernof, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said that "what this decision means in plain English is that the hospital's Medicare contract will terminate next Wednesday" (New York Times, 8/11).
The hospital since January 2004 has been out of compliance with federal standards. It lost accreditation in 2005 but remained open "while political leaders tried to turn the institution around," according to the Washington Post (Geis, Washington Post, 8/11). In August 2006, the hospital failed a federal inspection, after which it made major changes to avoid losing federal funding. Changes included:
- Limiting services offered;
- Reducing from about 250 to 48 the number of inpatient beds; and
- Closing its physician-training programs with Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.
However, the Los Angeles Times reports that it "became clear" in May that the hospital had not improved after a 43-year-old woman died on the floor of the ED's lobby after waiting 45 minutes for care, a case that made national headlines (Los Angeles Times, 8/11).
Federal funding accounts for about half of the hospital's budget (Jablon, AP/Orlando Sentinel, 8/11).
At noon Friday, the hospital declared an "internal disaster" and redirected ambulances to nearby hospitals.
County officials said large numbers of temporary nurses had quit or declined to renew their contracts, leaving the hospital unable to staff the ED adequately.
California Public Health Officer Mark Horton said the department would have personnel on site throughout the weekend to monitor care.
County officials plan to maintain outpatient clinics and an urgent care center at King-Harbor after the hospital closes.
To maintain medical services, the county also will add beds at other public facilities and contract with nearby private hospitals to treat patients who would have sought care at King-Harbor.
County officials will solicit bids from private operators to take over King-Harbor and reopen it within 12 to 18 months. However "previous attempts to find any takers failed, and success this time is by no means assured," the Los Angeles Times reports.
If a private operator cannot be found, the county might attempt to reopen the hospital itself within the same time period.
In addition, the county hopes to voluntarily suspend the hospital's license rather than have it revoked entirely, which would make it easier for a new operator to reopen King-Harbor (Los Angeles Times, 8/11).
Chernof said, "The only real failure in my mind will be if we don't ultimately get to a place where we have a hospital in the community that meets national standards."
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said, "For too long, the status quo allowed mediocrity to be the norm. There is no excuse or reason that we had to waste tax dollars and continue to support a failed system" (Los Angeles Times, 8/11).
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a Los Angeles political commentator, said, "The Board of Supervisors failed to put enough money and personnel into the hospital," and "now we are asking the question we always ask: Where are all these people going to go?"
Los Angeles City Council member Janice Hahn (D) said residents "are going to be left without a safety net for health care," adding, "There will be no trauma care, no emergency care and a lack of the basic services this community needs and deserves" (New York Times, 8/11).
"After years of bungled efforts at reform, corrective half-measures and tens of millions of dollars blown on high-priced consultants, King-Harbor Hospital ... appears destined to shut down," a Los Angeles Daily News editorial states. "Of the many failures of county government, perhaps none is as disappointing -- or harmful -- as this," the Daily News concludes (Los Angeles Daily News, 8/12).
KPCC's "Patt Morrison" on Friday included a discussion about the future of King-Harbor. Guests on the program included:
- L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky;
- Los Angeles Times staff writer Charles Ornstein;
- Sylvia Drew Ivie, former chair of the Steering Committee on the Future of King-Drew Medical Center and daughter of Charles Drew;
- Yolanda Vera, director of L.A. Health Action; and
- Celes King IV, vice chair of the California Congress of Racial Equality (Morrison, "Patt Morrison," KPCC, 8/10).