Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Votes To Begin Process That Could Close Trauma Unit at King/Drew Medical Center
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-1 to begin a process that could lead to the closure of the trauma unit at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, one of only 13 such units in the county, the Los Angeles Daily News reports (Anderson, Los Angeles Daily News, 9/21). Instead of voting to "take the steps necessary" to close the trauma unit, supervisors passed a measure to hold a public hearing to consider the closure.
However, the difference "was largely semantic because the original proposal would also have required a public hearing and a second vote by the board," the Los Angeles Times reports (Chong/Landsberg, Los Angeles Times, 9/22). The vote begins the legally mandated process the government must complete to reduce the level of health services at the hospital (Los Angeles Daily News, 9/21).
Last week, the board unanimously supported a plan to close the trauma unit and hire outside managers to run the hospital in an effort to address other problems at the hospital (California Healthline, 9/21). The hospital is under federal scrutiny for patient deaths, medication errors and questions about nurses' competency and could lose $200 million in annual federal funds if it does not correct its "long-standing problems," according to the Daily News (Los Angeles Daily News, 9/21).
The supervisors' vote came "[s]everal hours into a tumultuous, emotion-packed meeting" attended by Los Angeles City Council members, state legislators and several hundred community members and hospital staff, according to the Times. Testimony "ran overwhelmingly against the closure," with many speakers expressing concerns that shifting trauma care patients to neighboring facilities could "cost lives," the Times reports.
Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Van Nuys) and Assembly member Herb Wesson (D-Los Angeles) discussed personal experiences with trauma centers, stressing their importance in saving lives. Assembly members Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) and Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) and City Council member Janice Hahn also spoke at the meeting.
Nunez, who is speaker of the Assembly, also said he would seek help for King/Drew from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).
Rev. Frederick Murph of Brookins Community AME Church told supervisors that if they close the trauma center to "decompress" the hospital, "you are going to decompress the community, and it's going to explode" (Los Angeles Times, 9/22).
County Department of Health Services Director Dr. Thomas Garthwaite said, "We need to take drastic action to save the hospital. We are recommending that in order to save King/Drew that we send six patients a day to three or four other trauma centers."
In related news, the board voted to increase funding by $1.2 million for 10 private trauma units in the county and to allocate an additional $2.2 million to ensure their financial solvency (Los Angeles Daily News, 9/21). Earlier this week, Dr. Daniel Higgins, who heads the county medical association and is an emergency department physician at St. Francis Medical Center, said he would not oppose the plan to close King/Drew's trauma unit, provided that area hospitals receive adequate assistance from the county (California Healthline, 9/21).
The board also voted unanimously to sign a contract with CMS that requires the county to hire an outside management firm to operate King/Drew for one year (Los Angeles Times, 9/22).
Determining whether the board of supervisors is "amputating the right leg" with the proposal to close the King/Drew trauma unit is "hard to say," columnist Steve Lopez writes in the Times. The supervisors "had already decided behind closed doors and without public input" that they would vote to close the trauma unit, which "sounds ... like a violation of the Brown Act, if not the public's trust," Lopez writes. He adds that the politicians who "squandered their time at the microphone shamelessly pointing fingers and blathering on" did little to help when "things began falling apart at King/Drew" (Lopez, Los Angeles Times, 9/22).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.