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King/Drew Praised for Response to Lapses

Encouragement comes from federal official. Others cite lack of resources as an obstacle for the hospital.

June 29, 2004|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

A top federal health official on Monday praised Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center employees for swiftly correcting serious patient-care lapses uncovered by inspectors over the last six months at the hospital.

"There was a lot of work to do, and a lot of work got done," said Jeff Flick, regional administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulates the hospital. "You should feel good about it. You should take some credit for that. In my opinion, there just aren't that many hospitals that could have gone through what you've been through."

Flick made his comments at a three-hour meeting in the hospital's auditorium hosted by Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Carson) and attended by about 200 King/Drew staff members and supporters. It was Millender-McDonald's second meeting to discuss King/Drew's problems and the steps being taken to correct them.

Twice since March, federal inspectors found that patients were in immediate jeopardy of being harmed at King/Drew. The first instance dealt with prescription drug errors; the second with the use of Taser stun guns to subdue psychiatric patients.

The government threatened to cut off funding to the hospital, but retreated after officials corrected the lapses. King/Drew is still fixing other serious problems with its nursing staff and its aging building and equipment.

"There's still work remaining to be done, but all of this discussion is around your hospital meeting the basic standards that hospitals need to meet," Flick said. "We're not having a discussion right now around the concept of excellence."

Several speakers at the meeting blamed Los Angeles County, which owns the hospital in Willowbrook, just south of Watts, for shortchanging it and withholding needed resources.

"There are still people that don't want this hospital to be here, and there are still people that are working against us," said City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represents areas served by the facility. "At what point do we need hold the county Board of Supervisors accountable? ... It is because of the level of funding. It is because of the lack of resources. It is because of the lack of really paying attention to this hospital."

Sylvia Drew Ivie, daughter of King/Drew namesake Charles R. Drew, is a member of a steering committee examining the future of the hospital. She said her group, like Hahn, has identified money as a problem. The committee is funded by the California Endowment.

"More resources are needed of every sort to allow this complex to achieve the heights that only it can achieve," Ivie said, adding that her group would retain auditors to examine how money is spent at King/Drew.

While praising reforms at the hospital, Millender-McDonald criticized county health director Dr. Thomas Garthwaite for missing her meeting.

"He is not that important that he shouldn't be here," she said. "If I can take this time, so can he and anybody else."

In a telephone interview after the meeting, Garthwaite said he had informed the congresswoman's staff that he would not be able to attend because of other obligations. But he disputed the characterization that King/Drew was underfunded, pointing to data and studies showing otherwise.

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