Federal Regulators Pull King-Harbor's Funding

Federal officials announced today that King Harbor hospital in South L.A. has failed a second audit of its facilities and quality of care. The federal government plans to cut off funding next week. Without that money the hospital's operators, the County of Los Angeles, can't keep it open in its current configuration. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The letter the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent hospital officials began: "We regret to inform you ..."

Federal officials say King-Harbor placed patients at risk of contagious diseases, hospital staff failed to supervise suicidal patients, and hospital administrators failed to review whether patients were receiving improper medications.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky:

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky: I think this signals the end of the road. We've given this hospital all the time that the federal government, the state, and the board of supervisors felt it could give it to turn itself around. And if we couldn't turn it around with all that we've done, it's time to recognize that.

Guzman-Lopez: The hospital relies on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to stay open. That money will stop coming on Wednesday.

The board of supervisors hired Dr. Bruce Chernof as Director of L.A. County's Health Department to improve conditions at King Harbor. Chernof says the news saddened him and others in his department. He praised the work of hundreds of people to improve the facility, but he said King Harbor will begin closing down tonight.

Dr. Bruce Chernof: The emergency room will close at seven p.m. this evening. Current inpatients will be transferred out of the facility in an orderly process over the next two weeks. Outpatient services, including clinics and urgent care, will remain open.

Guzman-Lopez: Bill Hobson, president of the non-profit Watts Healthcare Corporation, said the closing will affect the very poor neighborhoods surrounding King Harbor Hospital.

Bill Hobson: If their loved ones get hospitalized, they're going to be hospitalized in another community far away, and that also puts at risk the possible maintenance of the scarce specialty medical services that we've got in the community.

Guzman-Lopez: Hobson said plenty of people have received good medical care at the hospital. Almost 50,000 people used King Harbor's emergency room last year. L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Burke said she and her colleagues have to figure out now where these and other patients will get medical treatment.

Supervisor Yvonne Burke: There's enough blame to go around. Maybe it's blame that we couldn't get the staff. Maybe it's the blame that we didn't pay enough money. Maybe it's the blame that we didn't have the technology. Maybe it's the blame that we didn't have all of the people necessary.

Guzman-Lopez: News reports in the last few years have described in detail how King-Harbor and its predecessor have put patients at risk. In several cases, people have died following hospital staff's alleged negligence.

L.A. County must wait several months before it can apply again for the federal money. Board Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky said the board hasn't decided what to do. The hospital, he said, may re-open under the administration of a private company – with an entirely new staff of administrators and employees.