LOS ANGELES — Less than six months after closing the trauma center at the Martin Luther King Jr./Charles Drew Medical Center (KDMC), the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is considering even more cuts in the hospital’s services.

King/Drew, the only major hospital and one of just two hospitals located in the South Los Angeles area, serves a million Latino and African American low-income residents.

On Aug. 4, the county’s health services director presented the supervisors with a proposal to close inpatient pediatrics and inpatient and outpatient obstetrical services. The proposal would also reduce cardiovascular surgery, neurosurgery and other programs, seriously undermining KDMC’s role as a comprehensive hospital and training center and further weakening the prospects of reopening the trauma unit.

The supervisors have announced an Aug. 16 public hearing as a step toward making these cuts.

The L.A. Times quoted Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) as responding to the supervisors’ actions: “I’ll tell you what: I’ll see them in the streets.” Waters helped lead a mass campaign against the trauma center’s closing last fall.

KDMC was established as a public, comprehensive medical center in the early 1970s as a result of that era’s civil rights struggles. A program in partnership with the African-American-led Charles Drew Medical School aimed to develop more minority doctors and medical professionals.

During the 1990s, a series of cutbacks began in many of King/Drew’s units and a chronic crisis in nurse staffing grew more severe. Recent years have seen exposés, particularly by the Times, of documented and alleged mistreatment and unnecessary deaths at the hospital.

The private Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations lifted KDMC’s accreditation and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services warned it was considering cutting hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds to the hospital.

In September 2004 the Board of Supervisors, saying it sought to save the hospital, hired Navigant Consulting, Inc., a major multipurpose consulting firm, to oversee correcting problems at KDMC. The board proposed closing the hospital’s trauma center, where problems were seen as less acute, so the county and consulting firm could focus on areas with the most serious problems.

Massive protests spearheaded by Rep. Waters opposed the trauma center’s closing and called for a continuing commitment to maintain and increase the hospital’s role as a comprehensive medical care and training facility. Despite the protests, the supervisors directed the closure of the trauma center but pledged to work toward its reopening. They also said they supported the hospital’s comprehensive medical mission.

Dr. Samuel Shacks, KDMC’s director of inpatient pediatrics, speaking as private citizen, called the proposed cuts, if implemented, a likely “violation of state Health and Safety Code 17000 requiring the county to provide health care to indigents.” He added, “There has to be a hell of a fight” to save the services.

Shacks, active in the Coalition to Save King/Drew led by Waters, challenged claims that private hospitals outside the community would pick up patients no longer served at King/Drew if cuts are made. “Those hospitals’ administrators may say they will, but the private doctors who use the hospitals aren’t financially interested in picking up uninsured and Medicare patients,” he said.

The coalition will meet Aug. 13 to discuss its response to the proposal.

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