Los Angeles County DHS Continues To Support Plan To Downgrade Neonatal Unit at King/Drew Medical Center
Los Angeles County Department of Health Services officials will continue to support a plan to "downsize" the neonatal intensive care unit at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, even after reconsidering the plan in response to opposition from community leaders, the Los Angeles Times reports (Hymon, Los Angeles Times, 4/14). County DHS officials in January recommended downgrading King/Drew's NICU from a regional care unit to an immediate care unit, which would restrict the facility's services for newborns in intensive care and infants who need ventilators to breathe for more than four hours. The proposed downgrade is set for July and could require approval by the county Board of Supervisors. Under the proposal, infant patients who are severely ill will be transferred to County-USC Medical Center or Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. The proposal is part of a countywide plan to save money and consolidate services; the neonatal unit at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center also would be downgraded to an intermediate unit (California Healthline, 1/13). County DHS officials said downgrading King/Drew's NICU would allow hospital administrators to focus on correcting other problems. However, Dr. Xylina Bean, director of King/Drew's neonatology department, called the decision "blatant racism," saying, "If [county DHS] downgraded service at Harbor, the protest would be such that they would have to listen to them, whereas this community is just a bunch of poor folks they don't have to listen to." Dr. William Look, medical director at Olive View, said, "We do not like the inconvenience this causes for those patients affected, but we recognize that [county DHS] must use its limited resources carefully."
In a letter to Los Angeles County supervisors, county DHS Director Thomas Garthwaite said that the decision is part of a consolidation effort, motivated by a decline in the number of births at county hospitals. Garthwaite noted that California Children's Services, which pays for the care of some children with critical illnesses, has decided to no longer consider King/Drew a "highly specialized hospital for care of newborns and children," according to the Times (Los Angeles Times, 4/14).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.