Health Care

Hospital Heal Thyself


Last year, scandal-ridden King-Drew Medical Center
had its staff and services slashed, was put under the management of another, more successful hospital, and was renamed as Martin Luther King Jr-Harbor—all in the hope of saving the facility that, for all its troubles, is crucial to many South LA communities

But did it get better?

Last week a story broke in the LA Times about a woman named Edith Isabel Rodriguez
who was writhing in pain on the floor of the emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr. Harbor hospital, but no one treated her. She died on the ER linoleum.

MLK hospital and county officials insist that the woman’s death, while a tragic situation, was not in the least typical of the newly reformed MLK. “It’s not systemic,” they said.

Yet I happened upon another MLK-Harbor hospital story that occurred two months before Rodriguez died. It suggests otherwise.

The story is running in this week’s LA Weekly
But here are a few excerpts…

NOTE: The man in the story, Juan Ponce, was first brought into the hospital by blinding headaches.

… late February, Ponce understood he was in trouble. Barely able to walk, he asked his brother to drive him to the nearest emergency room — Martin Luther King Jr.–Harbor Hospital, a sprawling facility on South Wilmington Boulevard south of the 105 freeway.

…..Ponce and his brother arrived at MLK’s emergency room sometime after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, February 28. After explaining Ponce’s symptoms to a triage nurse, the men waited about three hours before he was ushered into an examining room where, after a quick assessment, a doctor ordered an MRI and a CT scan to find out what was going on in Ponce’s head.

When the tests came back, two physicians met with Ponce and told him he needed surgery — but that the drastically staff-reduced MLK no longer performed the procedure, so he would be transferred as soon as possible. Whether it was because of the language barrier (Ponce is Spanish-speaking) or his woozy condition, Ponce at first didn’t realize how bad the news was — that he had a brain tumor. Nor did he understand that while the tumor was serious, it was actually the least of his immediate problems.

The imaging showed Ponce was suffering from obstructive hydrocephalus — caused by the tumor blocking the circulation of cerebral-spinal fluid through his brain, like a landslide blocking a river. The blockage produced a buildup of fluid in his cranial cavity — a situation that can damage enough brain cells to cause irreversible blindness, loss of cognitive functioning, even death.

If caught early, obstructive hydrocephalus is treatable. But, with pressure on the brain, timing is everything. “The problem with the brain is that it’s resting in an enclosed space,” says Dr. Brian Johnston, the emergency department medical director for White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights, a 30-year ER veteran. “The liquid has nowhere to go. So the pressure continues to build unless it’s relieved. Can it be fatal? Yes, of course it can be fatal.”

Ponce’s form of hydrocephalus is usually treated by drilling holes in the skull and inserting a ventricular catheter — basically a shunt and a tube (think siphoning gas out of a tank) to drain and reroute the fluid.

Since MLK no longer had the personnel necessary, the plan was to transfer Ponce to a better-equipped hospital as soon as possible.

But it never happened…….

Now read the rest…


  • That is one very scary story. When I read the initial reports about King-Drew (over a year ago?) I hoped that the hospital could recover. But, sheesh… Now, you have to wonder if the community wouldn’t, in fact, be better off if it closed. I might imagine circumstances where mediocre care is better than no care. And, maybe, an occasional case of sub-standard care happens at any hospital. But, the ‘care’ Ponce got would likely have killed him. Three cheers for Ponce’s daughter and Abby Soto. There have to be layers to these stories. I imagine the investigation into the death of Edith Isabel Rodriguez may reveal some of them.

  • Elephant in the Emergency Room.

    In 1990, 71.6% of the employees were Black, 11.8% were Hispanic, 8.4% were Asian, 5.2% were White, and 3.1% were Filipino.

    After complaints about King/Drew’s hiring and promotional policy, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigated and found that King/Drew did not recruit, hire or promote Hispanics, a group that comprises 60% of the hospital’s patients. There have been 35 race-based discrimination cases filed against King/Drew since 1991, and three have been filed within the past year.

    Today, 60.8% are Black, 18.5% are Hispanic, 9.6% are Asian, 5.4% are Filipino, 5.6% are White and 0.1% are American Indian.

  • Of course its un ionized Woody as are all county hospitals – you know the ones that are teaching hospitals for UCLA and USC. And so are the police and fire Departments in LA. And the LASD and County Fire Departments. Maybe that’s why the pay is better here than in Dogpatch – excuse me – Atlanta.

    Celeste The WEEKLY probably didn’t publish because by now this is, unfortunately, not news. I’m afraid pokey has a point. King-Drew has been allowed to slide because of racial politics. It was “Their” hospital and no one was going to take it away. And, lets face it, the rest of the county doesn’t give a damn what goes on there.

    Meanwhile let’s raise the bus fare to two bucks! That will only stop when Brentwood and Bel-Aire find out their maids can’t afford to come clean anymore without a raise!

  • Richard, other than to mention the LA Times Pulitzer-winning investigative series, there was no room to go into King-Drew’s past.

    Pokey, the Times’ 2004 series was investigative journalism at its finest, no kidding. It uncovered the race-based politics and laid them out, along with all the other issues large and nuanced that came together to make for the deadly (literally) calamity that was King-Drew.

    There was little point in us repeating all this. (Plus I had to cut 300 words from my original piece as it was to make it fit into the space.)

    However the fact that, as you wrote, “and three have been filed within the past year…” is really pretty troubling. That’s new news to me. Good web sleuthing, Pokey!

    King-Drew fired everyone in the hospital then started from 0-based hiring, making everyone apply all over again—which sounded really smart and hopeful. But in talking off the record to certain people related to some of the County Supervisors I get the uncomfortably feeling that a lot of people were simply hired all over again, whether they should have been or not. I don’t know this for certain, but it’s what I suspect.

    Steve Lopez of the LA Times also has a Bad MLK story in his column today. It isn’t as dramatic as what happened to Juan Ponce, but had his condition been more serious, it surely could have been.

    It’s REALLY discouraging.

    You’d think, given how under the gun they are (failed a “must pass” inspection last September, with a Really, Really REALLY Last Chance Must Pass Inspection coming up this July) that they’d err wa-a-a-a-a-aaaaaaaay on the side of caution.

    But evidently they haven’t. Surely we can find horror stories at all hospitals, but there are still too many coming out of MLK.

    By the way, I happened across the Ponce family when I was working on an entirely unrelated story at the daughter’s high school They didn’t come to me. (Which is what everyone at a County level kept asking me—as if, of course, the Ponce’s must be law-suit happy liars. Couldn’t be the hospital. And, no, to my knowledge they aren’t suing. They’re just happy he’s okay.)

  • rlc: Of course its unionized, Woody, as are all county hospitals….

    This gives me so much hope for national government health care.

  • I believe that it has. But, didn’t Marc Cooper’s daughter take part in forcing that hospital to accept the union?

  • An unrelated comment…Celeste, do your students read this site? They should. Their input would be interesting, unless they see Pokey’s and my comments and realize that we’re right and there’s nothing to add. Surely, though, there must be some communists in your classes who could respond.

  • Woody, dunno. But I’m off to see them right now. Maybe I’ll try to get some of them to comment. (Right now they’re neck deep in 20 page rough drafts of their final papers—plus final projects in other classes—so they all have wild and stressed out looks in their eyes. Thus we might have to wait a week or two.)

  • Woody…

    I wish my daughter had that much power. HCA has long-standing union contracts. Much like police and firemen do with the cities work for. Nurses should have the same rights as cops.

    In any case, I just got out of the hospital … again. I was in two of them last week. Both privately owned. One was unionized (where my kid did hellp build it) and another posher one that is decidely anti-union. The difference in care between the two was outstanding. The non-union staff lived in such fear of mgmt that they were quite effective in transmitting their grumpiness down onto us patients. They sucked, frankly. The union staff was far more friendly and compassionate.

    Anyway, what’s ur hang up about unions? You opposed to police unions? To machinists unions for the people who buold our fighters and tanks? Something wrong with that?

    And what about employers unions? Like the Chamber of Commerce. It’s ok if the owners work together for their interests but not the workers? I dont get it.

  • Something is very wrong with checks and balances when the Country Coroner’s officer can rule the death of Edith Isabel Rodriguez “accidental.” It was anything but … it was intentional disregard; reckless indifference; voluntary manslaughter; intentionally inflicted………. She had a doctor’s order telling her to return to the hospital if the symptom’s continued. How could this happen? Racism, sexisim, weightism??? Incompetence of the highest order? I hope efforts will be made to unravel this particular incident. Ponce lived. Edith did not.

  • This troubled hospital seems to be a product of its environment. Very sad that it should come to this; obviously the hospital is severely underfunded, understaffed, and what staff is employed is undertrained and under qualified to care for others. There are some important missing details here but even if they were provided, for this to happen is pretty shocking. The 911 operator seemed equally unqualified for the job. The problem is, how would closing the hospital help anything? Surrounding hospitals would just be inundated with more patients than they could possibly handle too.

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