Despite pleas, L.A. county votes to close trauma unit
Troubled hospital serves neighborhood plagued by violence
LOS ANGELES -- The county Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to close a hospital trauma center in one of the city's poorest, most gang-ridden neighborhoods, despite pleas from politicians, residents, and civil rights leaders.
Four of the five supervisors voted to close the unit at Los Angeles County's Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center; the supervisor who represents the area abstained.
The crowd in the meeting hall erupted in chants of "Save King/Drew!" and "No justice, no peace!" immediately after the vote.
"It's not a good day, it's a very somber day," Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke said afterward. "We can't change the fact that we have to do something. Accreditation must be saved for that hospital."
The county's health director, Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, estimated the county might be able to reconsider restoration of trauma services in a year.
King/Drew is in South Los Angeles, a neighborhood plagued by gang violence, with shooting victims sometimes dropped off outside the hospital doors. Over the years, US military doctors have trained at the trauma center because so many gunshot wounds are treated there.
County supervisors and health officials -- including Garthwaite -- had recommended the closing, saying the trauma center is draining money and manpower from the rest of the troubled hospital.
The hospital overall has been hit with a litany of problems, including patient deaths blamed on poor nursing and lawsuits brought by patients who had medical objects left inside them. Officials have found deficiencies in the hospital's nursing and patient care, findings that jeopardize $200 million in federal funding.
King/Drew, one of five hospitals operated by the county, is just south of Watts. It is the only public hospital in South Los Angeles, serving a 94-square-mile area with about 1.5 million people. Its trauma unit treats 1,800 patients annually.
The emergency room will remain open. Paramedics and others have warned the closing of the trauma center will force them to take some of the most seriously wounded to other hospitals, costing precious time -- and lives.
Services at the trauma center will begin decreasing Dec. 1, and it should be completely closed by Feb. 1, Garthwaite said.
The public hospital and medical school were constructed after the 1965 Watts race riots that ended in the deaths of 34 people and caused $100 million in damage.
A state commission found that among the factors contributing to the community's anger was a lack of public medical facilities.