Health Care Los Angeles County Public Health

MLK Redux


My full column for the LA Weekly
on last Friday’s closure of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital is online now. (Some of the stuff we’ve already discussed here at WLA.) I’ve posted a healthy chunk of it below. (NOTE: “Chernof” is Dr. Bruce Chernof, the director and chief medical officer of the LA County Department of Health Services. He is also pictured in the photo above.)

,,,In all, the report painted a picture of a hospital that had been in deep water
for a long time and, despite warning after warning, had not made the most basic of changes needed to save itself. As the federal officials pointed out in a summary letter, “Repeated certification surveys and complaint investigations have identified serious health and safety violations and documented the hospital’s inability to comply with these federal standards.” As a consequence, the feds saw no choice but to pull the hospital’s Medicare provider agreement and, with it, $200 million in federal funds MLK needs to operate. “This decision is final,” said the letter — in case anyone hoped there might still be wiggle room.

But although most of MLK is closed, the county faces substantial community and political pressure to find a way to reopen it. Thus, on Monday, Chernof outlined a plan for the hospital to eventually be resurrected.

The idea, he said, was to find a “non-county operator”
— maybe a private hospital or university — to take over. Or, failing that, to find some outside entity to supervise the hospital’s makeover, using “reconfigured county leadership” — an apparent reference to the feds’ finding that the Board of Supervisors is one of MLK’s problems. Some of the board members pushed Chernof to set a reopening timetable, but he demurred, and sources close to the board admitted to the L.A. Weekly that the county is a long way from finding a partnership.

“Trust me, it’s not that easy,” agrees Downey hospital’s Guest. “At best, this will take a while.”

Through much of Monday’s meeting,
politicians such as Supervisor Yvonne Burke and U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters repeated the mantra that everyone should “just move forward” and “we should not place blame.”

But others wondered privately if a little blame placing might not be crucial to the hospital’s recovery, if it is ever to recover. After years of multipage reports issuing dire warnings — not to mention the board’s expenditure of $18 million in taxpayer funds on consultants — and after scores of broken promises, perhaps residents of Los Angeles County deserve to know why, as of last Friday, MLK still had nurses on its staff who could not mix medicine.

“We were told that Harbor-UCLA would take over management of Martin Luther King,” said state Assembly Member Laura Richardson when it was her turn to address the county supervisors. “And that never happened. Well, why didn’t it happen?”

On Tuesday, the Weekly asked county health department spokesman Mike Wilson those same questions. Why were the majority of MLK staff — who were supposed to receive rigorous off-site retraining — never retrained? Why were a significant percentage of MLK staff — who were supposed to be laid off or transferred — never laid off or transferred? And why, after officials announced that the respected Harbor-UCLA Medical Center was taking the reins of MLK — and even changed the hospital’s tainted name from King-Drew Medical Center to Martin Luther King Jr.–Harbor Hospital — did that transfer of power fail to occur? Who stopped it?

“I don’t know,” an exhausted-sounding Wilson said finally
. “Dr. Chernof made all those requests.”

Yet someone chose not to put Chernof’s vital “requests” into practice. It was clear this week that county officials, and some of the most powerful politicians in California, had no idea who prevented the ordered changes, or why. If Martin Luther King Jr.–Harbor Hospital is ever to successfully rise from its own ashes to serve the communities that need it, those and other questions must still be answered.


  • Great story, Celeste.

    Wilson’s, wearied “I don’t know.” is real concerning. It’s suggestive of some power player who isn’t yet identified. Since the hospital failed on a series of decisions made by humans (since I assume Reggie-Teh-Gator wasn’t involved), it’s not placing blame to trace out those decisions; WHAT they were and WHO made them. Yvonne Burke and Maxine Waters’ behavior at the meeting sure could make a body suspicious. The oversight failure by Harbor-UCLA is a real puzzle. It could be they tried, and then threw up their hands when they hit the first obstacle, but that’s important to know too, since it’s part of that trail of errant decisions. Given the number of unanswered questions, might Gloria Molina be willing to offer a bit more since she seems responsive to the press and the public? Or, might someone at Harbor-UCLA be willing to offer insights as to if/when/what efforts at oversight were made? Until the arc of decision failures is understood, any attempt to re-open using “reconfigured county leadership” is downright laughable.

  • The idea, he said, was to find a “non-county operator” — maybe a private hospital or university — to take over.

    Now, why would that be? I keep telling you folks, but you won’t listen. Government is THE problem–not the solution. Yet, you keep going back to it for everything that you see is wrong.

    Think King-Drew is bad? Just wait for Hillary-Care.

  • Nobody knows why King/Harbor wasn’t reformed under new mgmt as promised? Who is running things at county – Alberto Gonzales? Sure Maxine doesn’t want to play a “Blame Game” – since a lot would come her way and the other “concerned” residents who didn’t want anyone outside telling them how to “Run” “Their” Hospital.

    Maybe we should let Reggie run it. He could sink his teeth into the problem! (heh! heh!)

  • Maybe we should let Reggie run it. He could sink his teeth into the problem! (heh! heh!)

    Oh, Lord. Thanks for the laugh – and the mental image!

  • I’d never met Chernof before Monday, although I’d talked to him on the phone. He’s this little mousy guy with a 1950’s spy mustache, or possibly the mustache of the obsequious French concierge in a 1940’s romantic comedy. In short, not your obvious Alpha guy. (This has nothing to do with size. Bill Bratton is short, pockmarked, but the obvious Alpha in any group.) Anyway, he sits down and then Maxine got up with enough excess energy to momentarily dim all the lights in the building, and said how “well Dr. Chernof worked with us…” I thought, uh, oh. Well, there’s your answer. This broad would a had him for lunch. (And then after dinner snacks.) Anything she wanted she got. And she was only looking, I suspect, for the immediate good of her constituents, not for the big-picture, overall good of the community and the city. And she wasn’t the only one.

    Thus somehow the patronage agenda that RLC referred to in the other thread never got dislodged. But someone in officialdom has to say so, and say how it happened.

    So, so much money went into trying to fix this hospital.
    And the sups, of course, were entirely spineless and derelict in their oversight.

    Very, very, sad. (And Maggie, I’m so, so, glad you came to Reggie’s defense on the other thread. We love Poplock, but we were made a LITTLE nervous about the ‘gater belt issue.)

  • God, Celeste. Does no one in that rat’s nest have anything to gain by spilling the beans? Or, nothing to lose? Looks like incest from here.

  • What’s a special shame is that even the more fiscally responsible supers like Zev Yarozlavsky and Antonovich and Molina talked a good talk about fixing the place for years, they left it to Burke and Waters to play racial politics out of fear of being called racists if they pushed too hard and called out the mostly ethnic employees for incompetence.

    Erin Aubrey Kaplan had an Editorial in yesterday’s or today’s LAT also putting blame on the black middle class, who distanced itself from the “poor black person’s hospital” after the last acclaimed unit, trauma, was closed. (WHY was the one unit that everyone said was excellent closed first?)
    They didn’t do enough to hold their “leaders” accountable, and the poor people weren’t in a position to.

    Kaplan also blames the Supes and others for washing their hands of the place because it was in a poor, ethnic area, so they didn’t take it as seriously as if it were elsewhere. I beg to differ with her on that way: the other Supes deferred to Burke and Waters out of fear of the race card.

    (Maybe embarrassment at his role in MLK is why Zev just discovered that he’s shocked, shocked to hear that there’s too much development and traffic in the city, and he’s leading a people’s revolution against it. He, who started the trend with the Westside Pavilion and Beverly Center, then prevented the city from getting funds for a subway until just this minute. And he’s one of the BETTER supes. Yikes!)

  • MLK is dead unless the County sells it to a Private Hospital with no political strings attached. All private companies have been pre-warned on the political ball-game the County Supervisors like to play. The majority want no part of it. When it comes to certain Supervisor’s districts, Burke and Molina, its always a lose/lose situtation-never a concrete signed done deal. Somehow they write up contracts with the Superviors having sometype of direct or indirect control or power on decision making. This is their political power base that needs to be addressed and abolished. They are here to serve the community equally. Not to turn a profit for a close ass rubbing political friend and or their relatives.
    When the new hosptial even makes a small reference or mentions the idea of changing the name of the hospital, Supervisor Burke will take a shit in her seat.
    Since the hospital was a result of the 1965 riots, it would cause certain Supervisors to lose strong political clout – specifically Burke. Molina has historically used the same type of tactical power.
    You know I would almost agree to the County keeping the psychiatry Mental Health Department of Augustus F. Hawkins, where can you go wrong with helping suicidal adults and children. But then again, I saw a majority of the children always walking around and slobbering from the mouth from being over medicated. They all looked like zombies.

  • Dr. Chernof reminds me of Mr. Hank Kimball, the county agent in Green Acres. Surely, you watch that, don’t you? In fact, the King-Drew characters remind me of the cast of Hooterville.

    Hank: “A hound dog, eh? I used to have a hound dog . . . or was it a bird dog? No — not a bird dog. Dogs don’t generally fly. No, that’s it — it was definitely a canary.”

    Oliver: “You just said it was a dog!”

    Hank: “What was?”

    Oliver: “The canary!”

    Hank (ducks): “Where?”

  • “Not a bird dog. Dogs don’t generally fly.” So I guess Hank Kimball was the original Jessica Simpson, without the big boobs. Actually, those two might as well have been running MLK all along, couldn’t have done any worse.

  • Poplock, I think you’re probably right that the ethnic politics which have caused the demise of MLK would keep any private hospital from getting involved. I don’t know any/th about the Hawkins psych facility; is that part of Harbor Hospital?

  • Right now I THINK Hawkins is staying open—which is inpatient, so it doesn’t entirely make sense. Although the conversation I had with the county spokesguy was so convoluted, I got off the phone without being clear if Hawkins WAS staying open or not—but I think it is. Bottom line, MLK is closing—kinda, sort a’.

    And, yes, I think this is exactly as nuts as you suspect it is. As with LAUSD, knowledge does not breed a sympathetic understanding of those in charge. In fact, the more one sees how this sausage has been made, the more horrified one becomes.

  • A. Hawkins is that building in front of the main MLK. Its attached to MLK-Mental Health Dept. and services your 72 hour suicidal holds, DCFS, and juvenile hall kids. A psych-ward for juveniles. Most people dont know its existence because prior to entering, permission is required by a security boyscout. Your like on camera everywhere you go. Due to most of the hospital being vacant and unused, it feels like a perfect place to film a scary movie. You can yell down a hall for help and no one hears you….

  • That “kinda-sort-a” response is exactly was going on behind close doors. Its all about politics, power, and little ass rubbing.

  • I was standing in line at the local hospital that is considered more or less a good overall medical center but not my family’s hospital.
    It has a convenient pharmacy that is open 24 hours and minutes from the house, so I went over late night around 10:30pm to get some baby Tylenol(R) for the little one. My objective was really to get a small or no line wait to run back home and catch the late night news.
    Moreover, I found that most of the “over the counter” medicine is about 15-20% cheaper than the local Rite Aid or Walgreens stores. COOL!
    I’m a very patient person and stood there almost 15 minutes listening to this older black lady with a cane arguing over and over on the issue of medicare/medical not covering the entire cost of her prescription medicine. She had the phramacist to all kinds of phone calls. I started to think inside my big head, I said to myself, I hope this is not going to turn out to be a typical Christ Rockst comedy scene. I said, damn……that medicine must be one of those $100.00 per pop heart pills. Poor lady …poor lady…poor oooold lady. Stay optimistic poplock, stay optimistic, you know, on the good side dude, the good open minded side of things bro. Come on sister, dont let a minority down – take the hit and walk around respectfully.
    After 20 minutes, the nice latina phramacist look at her and said in a politely constrain voice, “look mam, 15 dollars is what we have always charge. I can’t help you.” Then, the lady became Super Ghetto Grandma and said, “this is bullshit, this is bullshit, this is bullshit!”
    The point I want to make here is that as I watched this lady walk out of the hospital pissed off as a motherfreker, she jumped in a newer model STS or DTS Cadillac.
    I just shook my head side to side….

  • Medicare doesn’t cover about 20% which is the copay. Doesn’t sound like much, except if someone is stuck with 7-8 daily meds that can cost over 10-15 bucks a pill, the copay is huge.
    That can be 20/day out of pocket, $600/month, a lot even for middle-class elderly. Then there’s all the paperwork, and fact that they can only get a certain amount per month, have to keep going back.

  • Poplock, we must have been behind the same lady, except I encountered her at the bank. Just wait until the Democrats start to give away everything. In that regard, here’s a bad joke for you, but liberals are not allowed to read it.

    Without any paperwork or for any reason, this old black man everyone called Grandpa started getting a $500 check every month. So Grandpa and Grandma started cashing them.

    It turns out the government made a mistake with the address; the checks were intended for another person with the exact same name.

    Grandpa then received a notice that he had to pay back $6,000. Visibly upset, he complained to his grandson, an accountant.

    His grandson asked: “Grandpa, didn’t you wonder why you were receiving checks for doing absolutely nothing?”

    Grandpa answered: “I just assumed the Democrats were back in power.”

  • Woody, I had a guy just like you in my colleges years. He would sit in class and talk all this conservative, republican, and religious bullshit. Always yapping his anti-democrat propaganda and pointing all the fingers at liberals for all of American problems and mistakes. I said to myself, this guy must be some really wealthy guy crying over captial tax gains or his family owns some big business.
    So, I approached him after class and asked him to give me an overview of his life and level of wealth. I wanted to see what issues were affecting him by the dreaded liberls.
    The guy was a trailer trash guy that said that one day he was going to be rich, really rich, in the millions rich and it was all going to be contributed to his Republican support and ideas. Was that long haired ugly un-showered smelly fat guy was you?

  • Nah, everyone respected what I said in college, and our students were classy and clean. I guess you just picked a college with people who represented your lifestyle and standard of hygiene more closely.

    Your perception is pretty pathetic if you mistook smelly trailer trash to be someone of wealth. What’s strange is that the smelly, loud, long-haired people whom I saw were always left-wing worthless hippies. Maybe you’re the guy I saw outside the gate.

    And, where I went to school, our biggest worry wasn’t about liberals but the team that we were to be playing Saturday. Now, I blend that with baseball, since I have Braves season tickets.

    I hope that you get over your fixation with that guy fromm your past and your problems in life.

    BTW, what team does your school play for the season opener? Good luck!

  • Hey, poplock, it’s morning and I’m sorry for my snotty reply to you from late last night (my time). I should have just dropped the issue rather than hitting back. Please accept my apology.

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