Embattled Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center will have at least two years to correct problems in its physician training programs before it risks losing them entirely, according to the rules of a national accrediting group.
A spokeswoman for the agency misinterpreted its rules last week, telling The Times that a hospital in King/Drew's position could face more immediate sanctions.
The rules are complex and have created great confusion for King/Drew and Los Angeles County staff and even at the accrediting agency itself.
At issue is what happens after a hospital receives two consecutive "unfavorable" assessments by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The council last week proposed giving King/Drew its second straight such rating, meaning it had found substandard oversight of physician training, according to county officials.
The council would not comment directly on King/Drew, but spokeswoman Julie Jacob said last week that a second bad review, if upheld, would automatically trigger steps toward closure of all physician training programs at a hospital. In fact, she said this week, she had erred: Hospitals in King/Drew's situation are given more time to improve before they face the ultimate sanction.
The "continued unfavorable" rating recognizes that a hospital has made an "effort to correct their citations but has not fully corrected them," said Cynthia Taradejna, executive director of the accrediting council's institutional review committee.
"You want to give them some credit for that and not close them down," Taradejna said.
King/Drew can appeal its "continued unfavorable" assessment; a final decision will come next year.
The mix-up is sure to add to the confusion at King/Drew, where doctors and other staff members have speculated for weeks on the hospital's fate.
The additional time does not indicate that King/Drew, located in Willowbrook, just south of Watts, is problem-free. The accrediting group has revoked King/Drew's surgery and radiology residency programs, effective next June. Several other programs have received warnings or probation.
When asked about the accrediting group's mistake, a top official at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, which runs the 18 training programs at King/Drew, blamed The Times for focusing on problems there.
"You just keep rehashing all the negative items," said Dr. Marcelle Willock, dean of the Drew medical school.
According to the accrediting group's Web site, no other California institution under its jurisdiction is currently operating with even a single unfavorable designation.
The incorrect interpretation of the rules is the second public error the council has made in recent months as King/Drew's problems have unfolded.
In August, the group's Web site said that the hospital's surgery training program had lost accreditation in June. However, at that time, the decision was not yet final and was subject to appeal.
The group scrambled to change its Web site and correct its error. But the council ultimately upheld its decision to close the surgery residency program.