King/Drew Supporters Protest Proposed Changes at Medical Center
More than 200 supporters of the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center rallied on Friday in the Watts neighborhood to protest proposed budget cuts, service reductions and other changes to the hospital, including the proposed change in status for the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, the Los Angeles Times reports (Briscoe/Landsberg, Los Angeles Times, 1/24). The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services earlier this month recommended downgrading the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit as part of a countywide plan to save money and consolidate services (California Healthline, 1/13). Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who led the rally, told Jeffrey Guterman, a senior medical director for the county DHS, that the recommendation to change the status of the neonatal unit should be reversed. "We don't care what the decision has been," Waters said, adding, "This is a decision we will not take" (Los Angeles Times, 1/24). The county Board of Supervisors must approve the proposal to downgrade the neonatal unit at King/Drew before it can take effect (California Healthline, 1/13).
The county Board of Supervisors this month has approved recommendations by Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, director of the county DHS, to consolidate or restructure clinical services at King/Drew and give the medical center more flexibility to pay nurses at competitive rates. Earlier in January, the medical school also placed President Dr. Charles Francis on paid administrative leave, following a task force report stating that he had lost the confidence of many members of the hospital's board, faculty and surrounding community. The task force report also said that it is not possible to sustain the school's 18 residency training programs at King/Drew given its average of 200 inpatients; recommended a cooperative medical residency program with a larger, more prestigious institution; called for the school to establish a "culture of accountability"; and recommended a leadership transition at the school. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education last month recommended closing King/Drew's neonatal residency program. ACGME previously found King/Drew's oversight of its medical resident training programs to be substandard and decided to revoke accreditation for the facility's surgery and radiology residency programs, effective June 2004 (California Healthline, 1/14).
According to the Times, fliers publicizing the rally said that the county is planning to close the Willowbrook hospital, which serves mostly minority and low-income patients. However, County Supervisor Yvonne Burke on Friday said that she was aware of "no motion or intention" to close King/Drew, adding, "If King/Drew closed, the entire trauma network in Southern California would fall apart. Other hospitals wouldn't be able to handle the patient load" (Los Angeles Times, 1/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.