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15 Trustees Ousted at Drew University

Los Angeles

It is hoped the purge of board will be a turning point for the school and King/Drew hospital.

July 14, 2004|Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writer

As promised earlier this year, the university affiliated with Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center has continued a major overhaul of its leadership by dismissing nearly two-thirds of its board of trustees.

The purge of the board at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science was intended to help rebuild the troubled institution. At least some of the 15 trustees who were dismissed will be replaced by new members expected to bring a fresh perspective to the school.

The shrinking of the board was a "much-needed first step," said Dr. Cornelius Hopper, who heads an outside steering committee sponsored by the California Endowment, a private statewide health foundation. He said the move could eventually be seen as a turning point for not just Drew, but for King/Drew Medical Center.

Drew is a private university that was created, in part, to provide a doctor training program for the county-run hospital in Willowbrook. The university's board has been sharply criticized in recent months as the school lost accreditation in three specialties, surgery, radiology and neonatal-perinatal. At the same time, the hospital itself has been roiled by a series of lapses in patient care.

Among the 15 people who lost their positions as Drew trustees were Dr. Henry S. Williams, who had been a member since the board's inception in 1966, and Mary Henry, a community activist who also has been a leading figure in King/Drew affairs for decades.

Also cut was Dr. Gerald Levey, dean of medicine at UCLA.

The overhaul was carried out through a vote, formalized Saturday, in which each board member was allowed to select eight trustees. Those who remain are the trustees who received the most votes.

Some of the also-rans were disappointed, Hopper said. But he added, "I'm just proud of the fact that in spite of the fact that there were hurt feelings and difficulties, that they actually got it done."

Harry Douglas, the interim president of Drew, said the relative lack of acrimony showed that the board members "had the best interests of the university at heart."

The changes in the board had been recommended both by Hopper's steering committee and by a task force headed by Dr. David Satcher, a former surgeon general of the United States. At the urging of the Satcher task force, the university ousted its president, Dr. Charles Francis, earlier this year.

The eight remaining trustees will form the nucleus of a revamped board that is eventually expected to include 15 to 21 members.

There also will be an effort to diversify the racial and ethnic makeup of the board, which has been overwhelmingly African American. Although Latinos make up the largest number of patients at King/Drew Medical Center, only one Latino, Rueben Aguilera-Samaniego, is among Drew's eight remaining trustees.

"Drew University is a very, very diverse university, so there's a need for representation of all races and ethnicities on the board," said Dr. Carole Jordan-Harris, the board chairwoman.

Jordan-Harris is among those who will remain on the board. Others include Lillian Mobley, a longtime community activist who has embodied the old guard at King/Drew, and Bart Harper Williams, an attorney and son of Henry Williams.

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