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King/Drew Medical Center States Its Case in Plea to Accrediting Council

September 25, 2003|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

Officials at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center formally asked an accrediting council Wednesday to overturn its proposed decision to strip the hospital of its ability to train aspiring surgeons.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education informed King/Drew and its affiliated medical school last month that it planned to summarily withdraw recognition of the surgery residency program because it trained more fifth-year residents than permitted.

The surgery training program had been on probation since last year after the council found residents were not provided with enough surgical experience, faculty research was inadequate and curriculum did not follow recommended guidelines

In a five-page letter sent Wednesday, King/Drew officials did not dispute the accreditation council's conclusions, said Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, which owns the Willowbrook hospital.

But King/Drew's letter outlined changes made to shore up the program, including replacing its director and increasing oversight by officials at the hospital and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, which runs the training programs.

County officials would not provide a copy of the letter to The Times, but its contents were outlined by Garthwaite.

"What we tried to emphasize in this letter is we've heard your issues and here's our response," Garthwaite said in an interview. "Here's what we've done to ensure that we're in compliance and will be forever."

A final decision on the fate of the program will be made within two weeks, according to the accrediting council's rules.

County health officials also acknowledged Wednesday that they erred in saying last month that the surgery training program had two more residents than the 38 it was allowed. Rather, the problem was that it had two more residents in its graduating class last year than the six it was allowed, health department spokesman John Wallace said.

Dr. Arthur Fleming, the former surgery department chairman, has defended his conduct and said that the accrediting council did not explicitly tell him that he could not increase the number of residents in the fifth year until it was too late.

He had said previously that the program did not exceed 38 residents. He declined Wednesday to elaborate on his earlier remarks.

The status of the surgery training program has been somewhat uncertain in the past month because of conflicting letters from the accrediting council.

The council initially wrote King/Drew in mid-August that its recognition of the surgery residency program had been withdrawn as of June 30 and that residents would need to find placements at other hospitals immediately.

Within days, however, the accrediting council acknowledged that it had erred, saying that the withdrawal decision would not take effect until after the hospital had a chance to seek reconsideration.

Dr. Marcelle Willock, dean of Drew's Medical School, said she and hospital faculty have worked diligently to improve the 18 residency programs at King/Drew, including several that are on probation or had received warnings.

"My goal is to have every single program fully accredited in 2004," she said. "That's the goal I've set for myself, and we're going to work toward that."

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