The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted today to close the trauma unit at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center.
The decision marks the most radical step yet in the county's effort to reform the troubled King/Drew hospital, where neglect has been tied to the deaths of several patients.
County officials contend that closing the trauma center, which treated 2,150 patients with critical wounds last year, is crucial to turning the rest of the hospital around.
But South Los Angeles community groups and elected officials have protested the proposal, fearing it would require victims of gunshots and car accidents to go farther for trauma care.
About 200 protesters attended today's board meeting. The Board of Supervisors vote was 4-0, with Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who represents the area around King/Drew, abstaining.
After the vote, protesters shouted: "Save King-Drew!" and "No justice, no peace!"
Officials are trying to persuade federal inspectors and national accrediting groups that the county has the resolve to correct the many problems at King/Drew and avoid losing the funding and accreditation vital to keeping the hospital open.
County health officials contend that the high volume of trauma patients threatens the quality of patient care throughout King/Drew.
Trauma patients often require the attention of more than a dozen doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, placing an enormous burden on the rest of the staff. Once out of trauma care, critically wounded patients continue to require intensive attention in other areas of the hospital.
Closing the trauma unit, county health officials said, would ease the strain on the rest of the hospital, allowing administrators to pay more attention to other problems.
The county has argued that because of California Hospital Medical Center's decision to open a new trauma center, trauma care in South Los Angeles would not suffer.