LOS ANGELES – In 1965, the 265,000 people in the Watts area of South Los Angeles were served by eight small, private hospitals with 440 beds. Today the 1 million people in the area have only two hospitals with less than 300 beds.

These were the opening facts Dr. Samuel Shacks presented to a Jan. 15 Southern Christian Leadership Conference forum on the future of King/Drew Medical Center, which is threatened with decertification for deficiencies reported by the Joint Commission on Accredidation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). If decertified, the hospital would lose $200 million in Medicare funds and face closure.

Shacks, who is a pediatric physician specialist at the hospital and a professor at UCLA and Drew medical schools, outlined how, first, the private medical industry and, now, Los Angeles County Health Services have been abandoning the working-class African American and Latino communities of South Los Angeles. He urged that the hospital services be strengthened by restoring services and filling staff shortages.

The doctor’s data came from the McCone Commission report on the causes of the 1965 Watts rebellion. Those recommendations led to the building of the King/Drew, which opened its doors in 1972. At that time, Shack said, it was recommended that 780 beds were needed. Today there are 233 beds and only 200 in use at the hospital.

In the health Services Planning Area (SPA) 6, which includes Watts, the only other hospital is Metropolitan with well under 100 beds, Shacks said. Overall the doctor-to-resident ratio has fallen from 2,400-to-1 to about 5,000-to-1.

“Actually King/Drew is the only game in town for 1.5 million people,” Shacks said, adding other SPA areas have about 10 hospitals each. Yet “in South Los Angeles, the crisis is not only in access to care — SPA 6 is the poorest, sickest, with the most health disparities as well.”

County cutbacks in health services have added to the health access crisis in South LA, Shacks said. Three community clinics have been closed in the area, leaving only one. The “cascade” of cutbacks at King/Drew led to a staffing shortage of 565 positions. Many nurses at the hospital are from registries, which draw temporary nurses from out of state.

Shacks said JCAHO’s own data shows the crisis developed as cutbacks have been instituted. In view of the crisis, Shacks, who is African American, said, the community need “not apologize” for fighting to save King/Drew.

The Los Angeles Times, which has said African American leaders’ charges of discrimination have been part of the problem of the deficiencies at King/Drew, reported on the forum in a Jan 16 article. The newspaper quoted Shacks only on his “apology” statements, not his data and history. On Jan. 17, undeterred by such coverage, Shacks rode on the Save King/Drew float in the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday parade through the heart of South Los Angeles where thousands upon thousands lined the streets chanting, “Save King /Drew!”