King/Drew Med School Under Fire

Tracy Weber and Charles Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, Apr. 7

Los Angeles County supervisors Wednesday questioned whether Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center should ditch the medical school that trains its doctors—or whether it could remain open at all.

Responding to three troubling deaths late last month at King/Drew, a majority of the five-member board signaled rising frustration with efforts to turn around the beleaguered county-owned hospital in Willowbrook, just south of Watts.

“The question now before the County of Los Angeles is, can this hospital survive?” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Wednesday on “Talk of the City,” a program on KPCC-FM (89.3). “And I can’t give you a yes or no answer to that, which in and of itself says something.”

Yaroslavsky said he and the other four supervisors spent hours discussing the recent deaths at King/Drew in a closed session Tuesday and were “very, very concerned about the pace of reform.”

“If it’s going to take forever,” he said, “then maybe we need to revisit the first decision we made about how to approach this problem.”

The county decided last fall to spend millions of dollars to hire a team of consultants to overhaul the hospital.

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A Los Angeles County coroner’s report attributed the death of one of the patients, a 61-year-old woman, to complications from the placement of her breathing tube, which caused her lung to collapse. The woman’s death on March 25 was ruled a medical accident by the coroner.

In that death and at least one other, county health department officials say it appears that doctor trainees did not receive appropriate oversight from more senior physicians, as required.

Since late 2003, King/Drew, which serves mostly poor black and Latino neighborhoods, repeatedly has been cited by regulators and accreditors for serious lapses in patient care. A five-part Times series in December detailed how errors and neglect by King/Drew’s staff had repeatedly injured or killed patients over more than a decade, a pattern that went largely unstudied and unchecked.

In February, a national accrediting group took the rare step of pulling its seal of approval from the hospital because of problems identified in 2004.

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