LA County leaders voted on Tuesday to beg the federal government to continue to fund the troubled Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center while they undertake a drastic downsizing to save the inner-city hospital from folding.
The County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved the reform plan for submission to the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services. Health officials have planned to ask CMS to extend $200 million in funding to the hospital for a year and provide up to $50 million to pay for its makeover.
The dire straits of the Willowbrook facility is attributed to its failure of the crucial federal inspection earlier this year and thereby lost its Medicare contract which amounts to more than half its budget.
Dr. Bruce Chernof, the county's health director said, 'The hospital will not be able to stay open. The hospital will close" if CMS rejects the reform plan. Time is of the essence ... That money goes away if we stand still.'
Rep. Juanita Millender McDonald, D-Carson said, "What CMS is asking for is a radical change in the way we do business in terms of health care delivery and in looking at this proposal, we have met, in my opinion, this radical change."
Following the downsizing the hospital also would have to pass two CMS inspections next year to get a new contract.
The hospital had long been a symbol of renewal for an area south of downtown that was plagued by poverty and gang violence. Over the last two years, however its reputation was marred by patient deaths blamed on sloppy nursing care and its medical school was accused of poor training.
A plan to hand over the hospital's management to the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center was unanimously approved by supervisor and would be renamed Harbor-MLK Community Hospital on March 1. All of its staff would have to reapply for jobs, and it would be stripped of specialty services.
No layoffs were planned. Officials said that doctors and other staff who don't make the cut at King-Drew will be sent elsewhere in the county health system.
The facility is planning to retain 114 patient beds and also an emergency room and expand its outpatient services. From Nov. 30, patients who need special care such as pediatrics or neurosurgery would have to go to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, which is about 10 miles away.
The plan requires a public hearing, as well as approval by the state and federal governments. On Nov 6 a public hearing has been scheduled downtown.