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Hospital workers' records delayed

July 30, 2008|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County supervisors continued Tuesday to refuse to release details about 17 employees who worked at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital despite having serious criminal histories or lying about their records.

After 16 of the workers were suspended two weeks ago, Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke said one of the employees had been convicted of rape. But neither the supervisors nor county health officials would address questions that might indicate whether patients were injured or placed at risk by the employees.

Most of the public hospital closed nearly a year ago after federal regulators determined that it did not meet minimum standards for patient care.

But some outpatient clinic services continue, and more than 700 employees remain at the site.

The five county supervisors had blamed their own employees for many of the failures that led to the shutdown of emergency room and inpatient services and pledged to discipline or remove problem employees.

The Times recently reported that major lapses had occurred in the county's tracking of disciplined employees.

In a review conducted in response to the Times report, the Department of Health Services found that it had received information about employee criminal histories over the last year that should have initiated discipline.

On July 14, The Times submitted a formal request for more information under the California Public Records Act, which gives public officials up to 10 days to make material available or explain why they won't.

On Friday, Leela Kapur, a county attorney who was asked by the supervisors to handle The Times' request, wrote to say that county officials needed 14 more days to respond to the request. "As the disclosure and receipt of criminal history information is highly protected under the California Penal Code, your current requests require careful analysis," she wrote. A significant portion of The Times' request does not relate directly to the criminal information but instead asks:

Are the affected employees on paid or unpaid leave?

Who in county government was the first to learn of the employee records?

What actions did they take as a result?

Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky declined to comment on Tuesday. Supervisors Burke and Don Knabe did not respond to requests for comment.

Tony Bell, a spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich, said his office has prodded county attorneys to release information "as much as possible."

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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