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King-Harbor reports on its progress

Officials submit detailed plans to a U.S. agency on how ER lapses have been fixed. Administrator says the hospital is ready for a federal inspection.

July 12, 2007|Tracy Weber | Times Staff Writer

Promising once again that Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital has been fixed, Los Angeles County health officials submitted two detailed plans Tuesday on how they have corrected dangerous lapses in the hospital's emergency room.

The plans, submitted to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are the latest responses to an array of critical reports about the public hospital in recent weeks.

They stem from a pair of incidents that have brought renewed scrutiny to the beleaguered hospital's reform efforts.

In one case, a 43-year-old woman died after writhing on the floor unattended at King-Harbor's emergency room lobby for 45 minutes. In another, a brain-tumor patient waited four days for treatment before friends and family drove him to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he received emergency surgery.

But all the inspections and the responses could mean little if King-Drew fails an upcoming top-to-bottom inspection by the federal government.

On Monday, King-Harbor sent a letter to the Medicare agency saying it was ready for that review.

If it fails, the federal government has said that it would pull critical funding. County leaders have said that they cannot keep the hospital open if it does not pass.

In her June 9 letter to the Medicare agency, hospital administrator Antionette Smith Epps said King-Harbor meets all federal standards. "We, therefore, invite the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to survey the hospital to verify such compliance at any time."

Federal health officials say they hope to make a final decision on King-Harbor by Aug. 15.

Tuesday's corrective plans come in response to two reports totaling 102 pages detailing problems that inspectors recently found in King-Drew's emergency room.

The reviewers, looking at 68 cases, found that about a quarter received substandard care. Inspectors said the hospital failed to ensure that the care provided by physician contractors in the emergency room was "safe and effective."

Moreover, it failed to ensure that screenings were done by qualified practitioners, as opposed to physicians' assistants. They also criticized the hospital for failing to do prompt assessments of patients and their pain levels.


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