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December 6, 2004
LA Times Blows Roof Off Of MLK Hospital And Its Supposed Underfunding

As a native and former resident of the Los Angeles area, one of the continuing issues in the local media was the operation and budget at LA's Martin Luther King Hospital and Drew Medical Center. Its location and its patient base ensure that the hospital requires plenty of government funding, but it has long been an element of faith in the area that MLK/Drew suffers from underfunding due to racism and neglect. Without a doubt, the services there routinely rank as the poorest in the state (if not the nation), and until now, underfunding and racism seemed to be the easiest answers.

Today, however, the Los Angeles Times publishes an expos of MLK/Drew, and the truth not only disputes all of those allegations but also provides a microcosm of all that ails California's public and private sector:

For years it has been a heartfelt cry: "This hospital desperately needs more money!"

Whenever Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center is criticized, as it often is, the response from supporters is the same. They say Los Angeles County leaders never wanted King/Drew built in the first place and have been trying to starve it ever since. ...

The numbers, however, tell a different story. Though widely believed, the notion that King/Drew is being shortchanged is false. The medical center spent more per patient than 75% of the public and teaching hospitals in California, according to a 2002 state audit that looked at fiscal year 2000.

The difference is stark when King/Drew is measured against the three other general hospitals run by Los Angeles County. It spent $492 more per patient daily than Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, $685 more than County-USC and $815 more than Harbor-UCLA in 2002-03, county figures show.

The hospital with the most comparable budget is Harbor-UCLA, a much bigger facility 10 miles away. Last year, Harbor-UCLA had nearly $372 million to work with, not much more than King/Drew's $342 million. Harbor-UCLA, however, did far more with its money.

It's not so much what MLK/Drew did with its money as where it went, which appears to be almost everywhere except patient care. The Times carefully documents a multitude of destinations for the taxpayers' money that MLK/Drew's supporters insist amounts to starvation:

* In five years, MLK/Drew spent $34 million on employee injuries, far more than other (and larger) city hospitals, including damages to "psyches" and injuries suffered at the hands of other employees. Sitting down appears to be one of the most dangerous activities at MLK, costing the hospital more than $3 million over the past ten years from staff falling out of their chairs.

* Overtime is a bonanza for those who managed to stay in their seats, as employees rang up almost $10 million last year in OT -- 61% more than Harbor/UCLA, which has 400 more employees. Fifteen employees made more than $50,000 in OT. Why? Perhaps because MLK/Drew has an astronomical absenteeism rate. The hospital spent over $14 million on temp workers for fill-ins, compared to $3.1M over at UCLA. Workers miss weeks and months out of the year with little disciplinary action being taken, such as in these examples:

Sherri Echols, a nursing assistant, was warned three times about her attendance problems in 2002 and 2003. She was finally suspended in April for 30 days after missing more than 18 weeks of work without permission over those two years, said a disciplinary letter in her county Civil Service Commission file. ...

Some employees, such as nurse Elaine Pitts, go for years totting up warnings. In 1999, after her second suspension for absenteeism, Pitts was told she was allowed just one unscheduled absence a month. She was absent or sick for about two months out of the next 10, finally losing her job in June 2000, records show.

"Unnecessary expenditure of this sort is totally unacceptable," an administrator wrote in her termination letter, "particularly in this time of limiting resources for patient care."

Pitts lost her chance to appeal when she was absent for her own hearing.

The debacle at MLK/Drew gets detailed analysis from the Times, which surprisingly takes on one of the California Left's sacred cows here. The people of Los Angeles, especially in the depressed areas that MLK/Drew serves, holds onto the notion that the county and state deliberately starve MLK/Drew as an article of faith. No doubt that they will see this piece as an attack on their religion of martyrdom, but they should instead direct their ire to the system which allows these abuses to occur unchecked. Most of their problems can be traced back to California's insane workers-comp laws, which allow workers to linger with the mildest of complaints far beyond any reasonable recovery time, and which allows stress disability to stretch on indefinitely with no forced resolution point.

Bravo to the Los Angeles Times for an important look at what truly ails MLK/Drew and California. Read the entire article.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 6, 2004 6:30 AM

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» L.A. Times Series on MLK Hospital Begins from Patterico's Pontifications
The L.A. Times begins a series on Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center today, with a story titled Deadly errors and politics betray a hospital's promise. This is a good example of a newspaper doing an excellent job of in-depth... [Read More]

Tracked on December 7, 2004 12:33 AM



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