LOS ANGELES — Restoring the trauma center at the Martin Luther King/Charles Drew Medical Center and maintaining the hospital as a comprehensive health care and training center are high priorities for activists here during a week of activities honoring Dr. King.
The Los Angeles Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC/LA) has organized a Save King/Drew community forum as part of its King Week festivities. SCLC was the base organization of King, the civil rights leader slain in 1968. The forum is being held Jan. 15 at the Watts Labor Community Action Center, where the coalition opposing the trauma center closure holds its weekly meetings.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a leader of the anti-closure movement, will keynote the 28th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration and Awards Dinner at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel that evening. On Jan. 17 the coalition is sponsoring a Save King/Drew Hospital float in the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Parade in the heart of South Los Angeles.
The central role of Save King/Drew in the week’s activities reflects the rejection by the African American community and civil rights activists of both the Nov. 22 Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors vote to close the trauma center, and a Los Angeles Times campaign to discredit Waters, her family, and other African American leaders. In a Dec. 12 editorial the Times said there is no “excuse for how Rep. Maxine Waters and other elected officials defended the deadly status quo at King Drew.”
During community meetings, hearings and interviews, Waters and other coalition members have stressed that the hospital cures and helps untold more people than are harmed by its deficiencies. At a Jan. 8 coalition meeting, Waters stressed that she continues to oppose cuts in services and supports the restoration of previous cuts, but does not oppose improvements to remove the deficiencies.
“We have to keep our eye on the prize,” Waters said. “The mission of the hospital should be to serve the community as a comprehensive hospital and teaching center.”
At the meeting Waters distributed copies of a summary of a recent assessment of the hospital by Navigant Consulting. The Board of Supervisors hired the giant consulting firm for more than $13 million for one year to administer the hospital and make recommendations on correcting problems.
The Times article on the assessment focused on “1,000 failings” of the hospital. The first executive report, however, makes it clear that strengths exist at King/Drew Medical Center “upon which to build employee and physician pride in the hospital, long-term employee commitment and loyalty. This includes support of the mission to provide comprehensive medical care to the community, its medical school affiliation, diversity of the work force and community support.” The Times article failed to mention this.
The county supervisors voted to close the trauma center despite massive community protests. Their stated aim was to reduce the workload at the hospital to allow the county and consultants to improve hospital deficiencies that have led the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospital Organizations to threaten decertification of the hospital. This would have resulted in a cutoff of $200 million in Medicare funds.
The protests forced the supervisors to pledge to restore the trauma center when the accreditation problems are positively resolved. Waters told the Jan. 8 coalition meeting she believes that unless there is vigilance by the community and the labor movement, the hospital will be reduced to a small community hospital.