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Drew Keeps Crucial Seal of Approval

By retaining its national accreditation, the university preserves its ties to King hospital.

April 15, 2006|Michelle Keller | Times Staff Writer

The Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science learned Friday that it would retain its national accreditation -- crucial to maintaining physician training at long-troubled Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center near South Los Angeles.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education granted "continued accreditation" to the university after a favorable review, according to university and Los Angeles County officials, who operate King/Drew.

The council, whose representatives could not be reached for comment late Friday, had given the school unfavorable evaluations in 2001 and 2003, citing poor training and oversight of residents. A third strike could have meant a loss of overall accreditation, which "would have been devastating to the university," said Bart Williams, chairman of the university's board of trustees.

The university, which is historically African American, is dedicated to training physicians to serve in underserved minority communities. It is affiliated with King/Drew hospital in Willowbrook, which has come under scrutiny by regulators, county officials and the media in recent years for lapses in management and patient care, including potentially preventable deaths.

Although accreditation is not mandatory for medical schools, training programs must have that seal of approval to receive critical funds from Medicaid and Medicare. In addition, in many states, students must complete an accredited program to receive a physician's license.

The favorable review was based on evaluations of all of the 15 residency training programs and interviews with staff members and residents.

"This is a outstanding outcome for the university, and it is part of the process of renewal," said Dr. Bruce Chernof, acting director and chief medical officer at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. "But it is one step in the process.... There are some tough steps ahead of us."

Indeed, the action does nothing to restore three individual training programs -- in surgery, radiology and neonatology -- that had been shut down because of problems found by the accrediting agency. And the orthopedics program remains on probation.

Still, the announcement was well-received by officials at King/Drew, which depends on Drew University residents, who do most of their clinical training at the hospital.

"There's a lot of excitement around it," said Dr. Roger Peeks, chief medical officer at King/Drew. "It was expected, but you really don't know for sure until you get the official word."

The continuation of the university's accreditation also was welcome news to county officials, some of whom have been critical of the school. Some said they had grave concerns about continuing the county's contract with Drew, especially after a 2004 audit found that millions of dollars in training funds were unaccounted for. Auditors could not even determine how many physician trainees King/Drew had.

"It's a testament to the fact that you can change the culture of an organization and rescue it from a culture of failure," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "This is a big deal. Drew University can be a great partner to the county of Los Angeles."

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