Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Votes To Close King/Drew Medical Center Trauma Unit
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-0 to close the trauma center at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, despite protests from community members, the Los Angeles Times reports. Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke abstained from the vote (Landberg/Leonard, Los Angeles Times, 11/24).
The board also voted unanimously to approve an amendment stating that the county hopes to restore trauma services at King/Drew in the future. According to Brathwaite Burke, the amendment clarifies that the trauma services would resume after King/Drew secures its accreditation and funding and makes improvements to operations (Chavez, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 11/24).
Thomas Garthwaite, director of the county Department of Health Services, estimated it would take about a year to make improvements to the hospital and reassess whether it could support a trauma unit (Los Angeles Times, 11/24).
Regulators repeatedly have cited King/Drew for patient care problems, and the board in September proposed closing the trauma center and hiring outside managers to operate the hospital. The King/Drew trauma center, which provides care for patients with life-threatening injuries, treats about 2,150 patients annually, and the hospital emergency department treats 45,000 patients annually (California Healthline, 11/22).
Garthwaite said that the hospital will begin phasing out trauma services Dec. 1 and that it could take until Feb. 1 before trauma services are completely stopped (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 11/24). Many trauma patients who would have received care at King/Drew will be transported to the new trauma unit at California Hospital Medical Center, scheduled to open Dec.1.
After the King/Drew trauma unit is closed, patients will be treated at either California Hospital, St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood or Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance.
Burke and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) referred to the board's decision as one to suspend trauma services at the hospital, rather than close the trauma unit.
"It will not be shut down; it will just be suspended," Waters said.
However, Carol Meyer, head of the county Emergency Medical Services Agency, said that King/Drew's trauma center will be closed and that the county will have to reapply for trauma designation before it can reopen. Meyer said her agency does not distinguish between a closure and a suspension of services at a trauma unit (Los Angeles Times, 11/24).
Supervisors were told before the meeting that a lawsuit had been filed, "threatening personal liability if a patient whose life could have been saved at the trauma center died from being taken elsewhere," the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich called the lawsuit "frivolous" and said courts would side with the county provided that its decisions were based on medical considerations (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 11/24).
Celes King, vice chair of the California Congress of Racial Equality, said he would contact lawyers who have filed a lawsuit against King/Drew's proposal to close the trauma center. King/Drew doctors and community activists planned to request that a judge postpone the closure while the suit progressed, King said.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the board would work "to restore this hospital to a level of service, a quality of service, that is not just standard -- I hope better than standard. ... It isn't that way now, and we've got to fix it."
Antonovich said, "These actions truly are the first step in a long road to restore medical standards and excellence to the hospital. Right now, anyone being treated there is being treated at a danger to their health and their life."
Burke said, "It's not a good day, but the reality is that we can't ignore that we have problems at the hospital. We have to do something. And we're doing something." She added, "We have to give direction to the [county] Department of Health Services that ... it's closed only temporarily -- suspended."
King said, "We're still here. We're going to fight," adding, "Because people are going to die because of this decision" (Los Angeles Times, 11/24).
Summaries of recent broadcast coverage appear below.
Several broadcast programs included coverage of the King/Drew vote:
- KPCC's "Talk of the City" includes a discussion with KPCC health care reporter John Rabe on the vote (Rabe, "Talk of the City," KPCC, 11/23). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- KCRW's "Which Way L.A.?": The segment includes comments from Charles Ornstein, a health care reporter for the Los Angeles Times, about how the decision will affect patient care ("Which Way L.A.?," KCRW, 11/23). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- KPCC's "AirTalk" on Wednesday is scheduled to discuss the vote (Mantle, "AirTalk", KPCC, 11/24). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.