Supervisors Meet to Discuss King-Harbor's Closing, Possible Future

At a meeting Monday, L.A. County Supervisors pledged to re-open the troubled King-Harbor Hospital in less than a year and a half. They may try again to run it, or turn it over to private management, with new administrators and employees in either case. County health officials closed the facility's emergency room on Friday and ordered the entire hospital shut down in less than two weeks. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: It was the first time the L.A. County Board of Supervisors met to talk publicly about the closing of King-Harbor Hospital.

County supervisors got an earful from people warning that the closing will create a health care vacuum in the poor, mostly black and Latino neighborhoods. Long-time South L.A. resident Nelle Ivory:

Nelle Ivory: Each one of you know, everybody need health care, and you got the power to give it back to us. Please, do that. For our future children. I'm old, if I die today, that's that, but what about babies and the other people, young people? We need it!

Guzman-Lopez: Other concerned officials also showed up, including L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn. For her, the closing is personal. Her father served as L.A. County Supervisor decades ago and pushed for the hospital's construction after the 1965 Watts Riots. County supervisors made bad decisions on King-Harbor, Hahn read from a prepared statement, including hiring the previous health director.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn: I've watched in pain the last few years as I've seen you take bad advice from Dr Garthwaite, put in the people that did not solve the problem, close the trauma center, move neonatal ICU many, many miles away from where the mother would want to be with her sick child.

Guzman-Lopez: Rosalio Lopez, an administrator at White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights, told the county supervisors the closing of King-Harbor's emergency room on Friday is taxing the financial resources of facilities like his.

Rosalio Lopez: We want to make sure that this plan that you're putting in place is transparent, and hopefully that the funding for the care of those patients follow them to wherever they receive this care. White Memorial has been taking care of these patients over the last weekend. We got an average of about 11 to 15 extra ambulance runs a day, primarily from the MLK area.

Guzman-Lopez: Other administrators also urged the board of supervisors to help pay for the increase in emergency room patients. L.A. County's health department has agreed to reimburse nine private hospitals near King-Harbor.

County Supervisors told county officials to start negotiating with private hospital operators interested in running the facility. Supervisors also ordered competency tests for every single one of King-Harbor's 1600 employees. The hospital failed its federal inspection last month. Board chairman Zev Yaroslavsky said hospital employees are to blame.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky: You can't assume that 99 percent of them are good and that only 1 percent got you into this mess. And the problem isn't just at the worker bee level.

Guzman-Lopez: The head of the nurses union urged restraint.

Supervisors agreed to distribute copies of the federal inspection. The two-inch-thick document doesn't name specific employees, but it does give details on severe lapses in care. Similar lapses over the years have earned the hospital the nickname "Killer King." An East L.A. hospital administrator said he hopes a new King-Harbor Hospital will be known as ...

Hospital administrator: ... the kinder, caring, culturally and clinically competent King.

Guzman-Lopez: The supervisors are meeting in closed session today to talk about this some more.