An attractive King/DrewJuly 10, 2005 It's easy to see why the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors would be tempted to turn the long-troubled Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center over to a private, nonprofit corporation. The supervisors need only look at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to see a model that works. Just three miles from the county-owned King/Drew, the Catholic hospital serves a similar community of desperately poor and sick patients. There the comparison stops. The Daughters of Charity Health System has a reputation for running very good hospitals. The county has a reputation for utterly mismanaging King/Drew, and has for decades. But here's the conundrum: What nonprofit group with a reputation worth losing is going to risk taking on the inattentive nurses and negligent doctors whose medical errors have cost King/Drew its accreditation and some patients their lives? For years, King/Drew's defenders blamed the hospital's problems on the challenges of serving such an impoverished community and on the county's stingy funding. St. Francis' success disproves the first, and a yearlong Times investigation showed that the county spends far more per patient at King/Drew than any of its other hospitals. Instead, the root of King/Drew's problems lay in the tendency of everyone involved — supervisors, health department officials, hospital employees and community supporters — to put politics before patient care, to treat the facility founded after the Watts riots as a job bank, not a hospital. Over the last two years, the supervisors have at last begun confronting the continuing crisis, first by sending in a team of top managers from other county hospitals and more recently by spending millions of dollars on a company that specializes in hospital turnarounds. But each small gain seems to be followed by new setbacks, such as the recent federal inspection that cited yet more medical errors, misconduct and another troubling death. The supervisors continue to try to fix a model that just hasn't worked. To make progress, they must first end the hospital's relationship with the private and equally troubled Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. Then downsize King hospital to a smaller, more limited community hospital that concentrates on patient care, not teaching and research. The notion that it takes a teaching hospital to lure physicians to poor urban areas was true before managed care, but now doctors are more accustomed to working on contract. Attracting a new group of physicians would go a long way to changing a culture that for too long has put politics and jobs before patients. It's the kind of real reform that could make King/Drew an attractive prospect for a private takeover.
Using a simple, clear, direct sentences, the LA Times elegantly lays out the problems at King/Drew and then clearly identifies the only possible solutions to the problems that have plagued that institution - and the surrounding community - for decades. In other words, the LA Times editorial staff has finally grown some balls.
The only question now is, why did they wait so long to take a position on this? Why did so many people have to die and so many people have to receive totally inadequate medical attention before the editors of the LA Times would break their year's long silence on these much needed reforms?
The answer, I think is clear. In no other community other than South Los Angeles would the Times have remained silent for so long. Hopefully, though, this will no longer be the case.