Martin Luther King, Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center

Martin Luther King, Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center
Martin Luther King, Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center
Los Angeles County Department of Health Services
MLK-Harbor Hospital logo.png
Location Willowbrook
uninc. Los Angeles Co., California, United States
Care system Public, Medicaid, Medicare
Hospital type Community
Affiliated university None
Founded 1972
Closed (hospital closed in 2007; remains open as an urgent care and outpatient clinic)
Lists Hospitals in California

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center (MLK-MACC), formerly known as Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center (King/Drew) and later Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital (MLK-Harbor or King-Harbor), is a public urgent care center and outpatient clinic in Willowbrook, an unincorporated section of Los Angeles County, California, north of the city of Compton and south of the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Originally founded as major public hospital, it was shut down in August 2007 because of its poor record of patient care. The urgent care center and outpatient clinic, however, remain operating on the site. There are plans to reopen the facility in 2013 as a smaller hospital under a partnership between Los Angeles County and the University of California as a nonprofit organization governed by a seven-member board of directors.[1][2]

MLK-MACC is operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS). In the 2000s, widely publicized problems related to incompetence and mismanagement caused the hospital to undergo a radical overhaul which reduced the number of beds from 233 to forty-two before it finally closed.[3] Since 2004, 260 hospital staffers, including 41 doctors, had been fired or had resigned as a result of disciplinary proceedings. To alleviate the impact on the community of this large loss of capacity, The Los Angeles County Medical Alert Center (Felix: MAC) contracts ambulances take approximately 250 patients per month to other local hospitals.[3]

At the turn of the 21st century and before its crisis, MLK-MACC (then MLK/Drew) had 537 beds, was the teaching hospital of the adjacent Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, spread over a 38.5-acre (156,000 m2) site which included a dormitory for medical residents, employed 2,238 full-time personnel, and in 2004 treated 11,000 inpatients and 167,000 outpatients. Located near areas of high crime, the hospital had a very active trauma unit. In 2003, it handled 2,150 gunshot wounds and other life-threatening injuries. Because of the large number of gunshot wounds the trauma unit saw, the US military sent their trauma teams to MLK/Drew for training.



Founding and early history

The facility's founding was spurred by the 1965 Watts Riots. In the aftermath of the unrest, Governor Pat Brown appointed a Commission to identify factors which contributed to the unrest. This result was the December 1965 McCone Report. One major finding of the report was the lack of health care access near the low income neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles. At the time, the closest major public trauma center was Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, located over ten miles (16 km) away—a problem heightened by the amount of gang violence in the area.

In 1966, DHS established a task force to develop a full-service community and teaching hospital operated by the County in conjunction with the USC and UCLA Medical School as well as the newly formed Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School, a private, non-profit medical school formed to train doctors to work in areas of urban poverty.

Ground was broken on the hospital in April 1968. Its was originally named was the Los Angeles County Southeast General Hospital but was soon renamed Martin Luther King Jr. General Hospital. After a dedication in February, it opened on March 27, 1972 as a full-service medical center. The facility changed its name again, to Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, when it became the teaching hospital of the adjacent Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. In 1981 the hospital expanded into psychiatric care by opening the Augustus F. Hawkins Mental Health Center. In 1998 it expanded its trauma center. By the 1980s, King/Drew was part of the Drew/UCLA Undergraduate Medical Education Program, training physicians through a partnership of UCLA and Drew medical schools, and was a source of pride and jobs in the community.

The fall of King/Drew

King/Drew entered the 21st century with an array of problems related to incompetence and mismanagement. A perceived lack of quality at the hospital had earned it the nickname of "Killer King."[4] Starting with a series of reports in the Los Angeles Times, some of which earned a Pulitzer Prize, the hospital has gone through increasingly severe scrutiny.

Troubles come to light

On August 22, 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported that two women connected to cardiac monitors at King/Drew died after their deteriorating vital signs went undetected. In December 2003, DHS closed the cardiac monitoring ward at the hospital after a third patient died under questionable circumstances. A consulting group was hired to help fix issues with the nursing staff; DHS spent nearly $1 million on this effort.

In a January 13, 2004 report, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) determined that King/Drew was out of compliance with minimum requirements for receiving federal funding, citing the work of government inspectors who identified five patients who died at King/Drew after what were determined to have been grave errors by staff members. By March, CMS declared King/Drew patients were in "immediate jeopardy" of harm or death because of medication errors at the hospital, citing numerous mistakes and threatening to pull federal government funding from the public hospital. An example in this report cited a meningitis patient erroneously receiving a potent anti-cancer drug for four days. In June, 2004 CMS again stated that patients were in jeopardy, citing the use of Taser stun guns to subdue psychiatric patients. Yet again, it threatened to pull federal funding but backed away; federal funding makes up over half of King/Drew's $400 million operating budget.

Closure of the trauma center

On September 13, 2004, DHS recommended the closure of King/Drew's busy trauma unit, saying the hospital needed to put its full energy into fixing problems in other areas. Soon afterward, the Los Angeles Times revealed that the American College of Surgeons had revoked its approval of the quality of King/Drew's trauma unit in 1999 and 2003 because it failed to properly investigate questionable patient deaths and that doctors routinely skipped meetings held to discuss treatment problems. Also in September, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed with CMS to hire a new consulting firm to take over operations at the hospital. Navigant Consulting took over and was ultimately paid more than $17 million for 18 months of work.

By November, 2004, massive neighborhood resistance to the proposed closures (particularly the trauma center) had formed, led by U.S. Representative Maxine Waters and joined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, actress Angela Bassett and children of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In December, 2004, CMS declared King/Drew patients were in "immediate jeopardy" for a third time. This time it cited the staff's heavy reliance on county police to shoot aggressive mental patients with incapacitating jolts of electricity. Federal funds were again threatened, but as in previous times, action was not taken.

Despite protests, negative media editorials and the near-unanimous opposition of city political leaders, the five-member Board of Supervisors voted four to zero, with one abstention, to move forward with closure of the trauma center. A temporary restraining order was filed by a group of doctors and residents, but was denied and the closure was completed in early 2005. Patients that had normally gone to the King/Drew trauma center were dispersed among three other hospitals, both public and private (with county subsidy).

A few days later, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (now Joint Commission), citing the medical center for failing to correct severe lapses in patient care, threatened to pull its seal of approval, jeopardizing over $14 million in physician training funds. In a rare move (99% of hospitals pass Joint Commission audits), King/Drew's seal of approval was revoked in February 2005.[5]

This move gained national attention after the Los Angeles Times ran a Pulitzer Prize-winning[6] five-part series reporting on "The Troubles at King/Drew." The series found that the problems at the hospital were far deeper than the public already knew and faulted the Board of Supervisors for shying away from making needed changes, often because of racial politics. Among the other findings was that King/Drew spent more per patient than any of the three other general hospitals run by Los Angeles County, the opposite of what many hospital supporters had assumed.

Problems for King/Drew became even worse over a period of four days in March, 2005, when three patients died as a result of mistakes and lapses in medical care. The Board of Supervisors considered severing the hospital's relationship with Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and partnering with another medical school such as UCLA, USC or Loma Linda University. Then, in April the Los Angeles Times reported a seventh death attributed to lapses in care by the hospital. This time, nurses and staff virtually ignored the audio and visual cues of vital-sign monitors over a period of hours.

"Make-or-break" inspection

After the three previous warnings holding King/Drew out of compliance with federal guidelines since January 2004, CMS and federal authorities held an unannounced, last-chance inspection of the hospital that began on July 31, 2006 and was finished on August 10. On September 22, CMS informed King/Drew that the hospital still did not meet minimum patient-care standards, failing nine of the government's twenty-three conditions for federal funding, and thus failing the final, "make-or-break" inspection. Federal regulators identified problems in nursing, pharmacy, infection control, surgical services, rehabilitation services, quality control, patients' rights and the hospital's governing body and physical plant. Inspectors found more problems during the final inspection than they had at any time in the previous three years.

The final report stated, and underlined, that "Termination of the Medicare provider agreement is final." This finding jeopardized $200 million per year in federal funding, leaving Los Angeles County to close the hospital, give it to someone else to run, or turn it into a clinic.

King/Drew becomes King-Harbor

Radical restructuring

DHS elected to move forward with a radical restructuring plan that eliminated the hospital's specialty services, severed its relationship with the Drew medical school, and proposed to place it under the management of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (Harbor-UCLA).[3] The plan downsized and refocused the hospital on community medical care, including emergency room and outpatient services; the two central pillars of the plan were identifying and removing under-performing staff and integrating the two hospitals "under one medical management and administrative leadership team at Harbor-UCLA."[7] King/Drew became King-Harbor to reflect the change.

All employees of the hospital were interviewed, with half permitted to stay and the rest transferred to other hospitals. Approximately 1,400 employees remained. As a result of these measures, Medicare agreed to continue funding the hospital until March 31, 2007. After further negotiations, federal inspectors agreed to delay inspection until August 2007. King/Harbor had to pass this inspection. Otherwise federal funding would end on November 30, 2007.[5] As a part of the March deal with the federal government, Los Angeles County agreed not to bill Medicare for hospital services until August 2007, giving it time to fix problems at the hospital.[8] If federal funding ended, among other problems, MLK-Harbor would permanently lose 250 medical resident slots, 15% of the 1,700 in Los Angeles County.[9]

On March 6, 2007, officials from Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science announced they were suing Los Angeles County for $125 million for breach of contract, claiming that the restructuring of the hospital terminated support to 248 medical residents and gutted the adjacent university.[10] The two entities had collaborated since 1972. In response, Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Mike Antonovich stated "Drew University will fail in court as they failed as a medical school."[10]

Problems surface again

Despite initially upbeat official reports from hospital officials[11], King-Harbor found itself under public criticism once again after different stories ran in both the Los Angeles Times[12][13] and LA Weekly[14] in late May 2007 citing serious lapses in care, one of which was fatal, at the renamed hospital. In particular, the case of patient Edith Isabel Rodriguez, who bled to death on the emergency room floor after being ignored for forty-five minutes, became a cause célèbre of the failures and bureaucratic indifference of King-Harbor as well as political and health leaders in the Los Angeles area, creating or reinforcing fears that the health care system could not take care of people in a time of dire need.[15] In response to public outcry, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) asked federal regulators to address how they will protect patients at King-Harbor in light of "horrific" and "appalling" lapses in patient care.[16]

The news reports prompted a multi-day inspection by state and federal officials, and on June 7, 2007, federal health officials declared that King-Harbor had put emergency room patients in "immediate jeopardy" of harm or death, that it remained in violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, and gave it twenty-three days to fix the problems or lose federal funding once and for all.[8] During the inspection, CMS found that 17 patients, among 60 whose cases were reviewed, received substandard care at the hospital.[17] If the problems were resolved in that timeline, the hospital still could have lost its federal certification because it had failed to meet the terms of a March agreement with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.[8] Despite multiple threats from the government, experts in hospital accreditation cite the federal government's relatively tempered response due to the hospital's unique history and special standing in the community, as well as its support from African American politicians.[5]

On June 12, 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that King-Harbor had replaced its chief medical officer, Dr. Roger Peeks, who had been brought in to fix problems three years earlier.[18] During a June 18, 2007 meeting with the County Board of Supervisors, county health officials disclosed that they were still unable to meet the cornerstone pledges they had made to CMS: only about one-third of the 1,200 employees they initially projected would be shifted to other institutions had actually been reassigned, and significant control had not been effectively handed off to Harbor-UCLA.[7] In April, 60% of 285 registered and licensed vocational nurses failed one or more parts of basic clinical competency assessments; while more than 10% failed three or more sections of the assessment.[7] The staff of Harbor-UCLA was surprised by the amount of training King-Harbor employees needed.[7]

On June 21, 2007, the state California Department of Health Services (CDHS) moved to revoke the license of King-Harbor.[19] The process, supported by state politicians including Gov. Schwarzenegger, could take six months to a year and would force the hospital's closure.[4] CDHS could rescind the action if the hospital was able to show that it met state and federal standards.[20] There remained serious concerns over how King-Harbor's 47,000 annual emergency room visits might be spread across the system with minimum disruption if the hospital were to close.[4] In response to the state's decision, Los Angeles County Supervisors considered having the county close the hospital ahead of the state,[21] hoping to thereby formulate and implement an orderly plan for diverting patients[21] and, by suspending King-Harbor instead of allowing it to lose its state license, making an easier task reopening it.[22] The County ultimately decided to not move for County closure. The hospital received a brief reprieve when a June 25, 2007 inspection showed critical problems with its emergency room identified earlier in the month had been corrected, preserving federal certification and funding for the hospital until August 2007, when it must pass a broader federal review.[22]

The weeklong federal inspection began on July 23, 2007. The next day, inspectors from CMS once again cited King-Harbor for placing patients in "immediate jeopardy" of harm, hours after a psychiatric patient cut herself with a scalpel in an emergency room bathroom.[23]


On August 10, 2007, after the hospital failed a comprehensive review by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, federal officials decided to revoke $200 million in funding.[24] Inspectors concluded that there was no functioning quality improvement plan at the hospital.[25] Los Angeles County health director Dr. Bruce Chernof moved quickly to notify the county Board of Supervisors of his decision to begin shutting down the facility. The emergency room was closed by 7 p.m. that day and ambulances were diverted to other area hospitals. The rest of the hospital was closed by August 27, 2007.[24] Some of King-Harbor's 1 600 employees would likely be reassigned to jobs at other county facilities.[24]

On August 13, at a specially convened board meeting, LA County supervisors voted unanimously to shut inpatient services and promised to pay up to $16.3 million to nearby private hospitals and doctors bracing for a deluge of patients from the closed facility.[25] They also released the 124-page report by federal inspectors that detailed dozens of errors and failures by the hospital during their final make-or-break review. The citations included improperly sterilized medical equipment, nurses who could not rapidly find medication, a nurse who did not know how to mix medication in an emergency, and a patient who complained of severe chest pain but was not given pain medication for four and a half hours.[25]

With the hospital closed, the facility continued to operate as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center, an urgent care facility and outpatient clinic.

Ramifications of closure

The closure of King-Harbor had an immediate effect on health care services in the region. Nine nearby hospitals were declared "impacted" by the distribution of former King-Harbor patients. The greatest burden fell on St. Francis Medical Center in nearby Lynwood, which expanded its emergency room by 14 beds and saw an increase in patients from 155 per day to 180 per day, with the intensive care unit seeing an average rise from 26 patients to 33. Nearby clinics have also been impacted. The nine clinics that are part of the St. John's Well Child and Family Centers saw a 157 percent increase in visits since King-Harbor closed. Meanwhile, the remaining outpatient clinic at King-Harbor has seen patient totals fall well below the target of 190,000 visits a year due to the negative reputation of the facility. As King-Harbor was long a major hospital for the city's sickest and poorest residents, the increase in uninsured and under-insured patients has put major stress on the financial health of relieving institutions.[26] With the closure of the hospital, South Los Angeles has one hospital bed per 1,000 residents, compared with a national average of three beds per 1,000 residents.[2]

Plans to reopen the hospital

As soon as MLK-Harbor was closed, efforts were begun to find a way to reopen the facility as soon as possible. Los Angeles County officials originally planned a 2009 reopening, but that proved unfeasible.[2] The County found a partnership with the University of California system to reopen the hospital as a nonprofit organization governed by a seven-member board of directors; the hospital would no longer be run by the county. The board of directors would consist of two appointees chosen by the university system, two chosen by county officials, and three chosen jointly. The county will contribute $50 million annually to cover expenses and operating costs and $13.3 million a year toward the care of uninsured patients. The county will continue to staff and operate the hospital’s outpatient services center, which has remained open.[1] The hospital is scheduled to reopen in 2013.[2]

The new nonprofit entity would handle all hiring for the hospital. This had been a major point of negotiation because the hospital staff had gained a reputation for being packed with people politically connected to various elected officials, leading to criticism that problems with hospital staff tended to be ignored. At the time of its closure it had about 11.5 workers per bed, compared with the statewide average of 4 per bed.[1] The new system would allow the hospital staff to be start fresh without the county requiring that past King employees be given back their jobs.[2]

The hospital will reopen as a smaller facility, with 120 beds instead of 233 (compared to 537 at its height). It will have an emergency room and four operating rooms. The university will provide fourteen to twenty physicians and medical oversight for the in-patient hospital, with a goal of eventually providing medical residents to again train there. Further renovations of the aging facility will be done with an upgraded central plant, new emergency generators, and two new buildings, one with six out-patient surgeries and a dental clinic, with an estimated total cost of more than $350 million.[2]

Affiliated high school

King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science [2], located adjacent to the hospital, is a Los Angeles Unified School District magnet school affiliated with the hospital [3].

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c Jennifer Steinhauer, Deal Will Turn a Los Angeles Hospital Private, The New York Times, November 23, 2009, Accessed November 23, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Molly Hennessy-Fiske, UC regents approve partnership with L.A. County to reopen King medical facility, Los Angeles Times, November 20, 2009, Accessed November 23, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Susannah Rosenblatt, Former King/Drew scales down to smallest size, Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2007.
  4. ^ a b c Charles Ornstein and Rich Connell, State moves to revoke King-Harbor's license, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2007.
  5. ^ a b c Charles Ornstein, How King-Harbor has stayed alive, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2007
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ a b c d Rich Connell, Robert J. Lopez and Susannah Rosenblatt, King-Harbor efforts faltering, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2007.
  8. ^ a b c Charles Ornstein and Robert J. Lopez, King-Harbor ordered to fix problems or else, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2007.
  9. ^ Susannah Rosenblatt, Hospital could lose 250 resident positions, Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2007.
  10. ^ a b Susannah Rosenblatt, Medical school to sue L.A. County, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2007.
  11. ^ Rich Connell and Susannah Rosenblatt, King status reports were upbeat, Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2007.
  12. ^ Charles Ornstein, Tale of last 90 minutes of woman's life, Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2007.
  13. ^ Charles Ornstein and Francisco Vara-Orta, Tragic Catch-911 for dying woman, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2007.
  14. ^ Celeste Fremon, Escaping With His Life, LA Weekly, May 23, 2007.
  15. ^ Charles Ornstein (June 15, 2007). "How a hospital death became a cause celebre". Los Angeles Times.,1,6172003,full.story?coll=la-headlines-california. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  16. ^ Charles Ornstein and Susannah Rosenblatt (June 16, 2007). "6 King staffers disciplined with letters". Los Angeles Times.,1,7155045,full.story?coll=la-headlines-california. Retrieved 2007-06-16. [dead link]
  17. ^ Charles Ornstein, Report details risks to patients' lives, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2007.
  18. ^ Susannah Rosenblatt and Rich Connell, King-Harbor medical chief is ousted; nursing woes are disclosed, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2007.
  19. ^ Kathleen Billingsley, Letter to Dr. Bruce Chernoff, Re: Martin Luther King/Harbor Hospital License, California Department of Health Services, June 21, 2007.
  20. ^ State Department of Health Services Initiates Action to Revoke Martin Luther King-Harbor Hospital’s License, California Department of Health Services, June 21, 2007.
  21. ^ a b Charles Ornstein and Jack Leonard, Vote on closing King-Harbor anticipated, Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2007.
  22. ^ a b Jack Leonard, Burke silent as panel debates hospital's fate, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2007.
  23. ^ Susannah Rosenblatt and Charles Ornstein, U.S. cites King-Harbor for poor care, Los Angeles Times, 26 July 2007.
  24. ^ a b c Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber and Jack Leonard, King-Harbor fails final check, will close soon, Los Angeles Times, August 11, 2007.
  25. ^ a b c Jack Leonard, King-Harbor inspection report released, Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2007.
  26. ^ Jennifer Steinhauser, A City Where Hospitals Are as Ill as the Patients, The New York Times, June 5, 2008, Accessed June 6, 2008.

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Coordinates: 33°55′26″N 118°14′30″W / 33.923803°N 118.241583°W / 33.923803; -118.241583

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