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King/Drew Might Seek Renewed Accreditation

The chief executive tells a community forum the hospital will also consider restoring cut services if a key federal inspection is passed.

August 20, 2006|Rong-Gong Lin II | Times Staff Writer

The top administrator at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center said Saturday that if the public hospital passes a recent make-or-break federal inspection, it will seek to regain accreditation and consider reinstituting cut services, including trauma care.

"Once we achieve accreditation, we want to restore as many services as possible," said Antionette Smith Epps, who has been the hospital's chief executive since October.

Epps made her comments at a community forum on the progress of King/Drew, which underwent the inspection this month to determine if the hospital had resolved patient care problems that have repeatedly led to deaths.

If King/Drew fails any part of the inspection by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, it stands to lose $200 million in federal funding, about half its budget. Such a failure, Los Angeles County supervisors have said, could force the hospital to be downsized, closed or turned over to someone else to run.

"We remain cautiously optimistic," Epps said of the inspection, which began, unannounced, July 31 and ended Aug. 10.

Officials said it could take several weeks before the federal agency announces its findings.

Epps said King/Drew's new leadership team has been working hard to communicate with the staff and is developing a culture of accountability in which employees take responsibility for the quality of work and care they provide.

"There's not gradients of quality. There's just one quality," she said.

"We make sure the ultimate judge of our standards are our patients."

The hospital's administrative team was criticized in June by Dr. Debi Thomas, a world champion figure skater turned orthopedic surgeon, who lambasted top administrators for having "policies in place that cause us to have to deliver bad care."

Thomas made the comments at a meeting with the federal regulators who will decide the medical center's fate. She left King/Drew in June to prepare for her certification examination.

Members of the audience Saturday quizzed Epps about ongoing concerns at the facility, including communication with the community and the hospital's reliance on temporary nurses. Many of the 60 people attending the forum were hospital doctors or county employees.

Epps said King/Drew has been making some progress in recruiting permanent staff, but she acknowledged a degree of difficulty.

"Some would say because of our recent issues ... folks are perhaps skittish of making a permanent commitment" to work at King/Drew, she said.

Asked by an audience member what Epps could do about the negative media attention King/Drew is receiving, the chief executive said she has established a communications office for the hospital to tell its story. But she added: "We have a free press in this country.... Unfortunately, things happen in hospitals. We are in an endeavor that includes humans, and humans do make errors."

The hospital, in Willowbrook just south of Watts, lost its national accreditation in early 2005 and has not sought to regain it.

King/Drew has been out of compliance with Medicare standards since January 2004 because of neglect by nurses, pharmacy errors and the improper use of Taser guns to subdue psychiatric patients.

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