Posted on December 31, 2004

Health Facility Fails Latest Test

Charles Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30

Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center failed an inspection by federal regulators this week, moving the beleaguered public hospital closer to losing $200 million in federal funding.

Barring a last-minute change, the Los Angeles County-owned hospital is tentatively slated to lose its federal money on Jan. 19, a county health official wrote in an e-mail late Wednesday to the Board of Supervisors. Without that funding, King/Drew could be forced to close, imperiling the largely low-income African American and Latino population it serves, officials have said.

County health officials said King/Drew would have one more opportunity to prove it has corrected its problems before the Jan. 19 cutoff date.

King/Drew had pledged to make changes earlier this month after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services faulted it for allowing county police officers to use Taser stun guns to subdue psychiatric patients.

Hospital officials said they would minimize the role of police on the teams that responded to psychiatric patients and, ultimately, replace them with trained mental health workers. They also promised to retrain workers on how to handle aggressive psychiatric patients without resorting to stun guns or restraints.

But during an inspection at the hospital Tuesday, reviewers from the Medicare agency found that workers still were unable to follow proper procedures.

The reviewers conducted three mock drills, in which doctors and other staff members were asked how they would respond to aggressive mental patients.

In all three, hospital employees were not able to “clearly describe and demonstrate their roles in managing assaultive patients,” according to the health department’s e-mail.

And that was despite intensive training that occurred within the last two weeks, county health department officials said.

In addition, county police officers came to the drills armed with Taser guns, even though the health department had told regulators that officers would not be armed when they first responded, health officials said. County police patrol county-owned facilities and have a substation at the hospital.