The doctors involved in Yamamoto's care were never charged. The incident, however, cemented some police officers' impressions that King/Drew was not a safe place to go.
AIDS virus. But no one had bothered to check the test results.
In 1998, Blanca Maldonado, 52, drank a glass of tissue preservative, a poisonous chemical mixture accidentally left on her hospital bed stand by a doctor in training. She staggered to the closest nursing station, pleaded for help and died a short time later.
Each of these cases led to promises by the Board of Supervisors that King/Drew would be fixed.
A pattern emerged: A crisis would bring superficial reform, followed by a short period of relative calm, soon to be followed by another crisis.
"Members of the Board of Supervisors tiptoe around Martin Luther King hospital," said political consultant Kerman Maddox, who is black. "They have to pay attention when they're forced to pay attention, but when they're not they'd rather ignore it and hope it'll go away. They'd rather not get in battles with people in the community, because they would appear to be racially insensitive."
Few people have been in a better position to know what is going on at King/Drew than the supervisors. They receive county, state and federal reports spelling out the hospital's most severe patient care failings, along with other documentation.
The supervisors also must sign off on malpractice payments of more than $100,000 — two dozen from King/Drew in the last six years alone. Confidential paperwork describes precisely what went wrong and how the hospital plans to fix it.
Yet, again and again, the board has professed shock at the hospital's tragedies.
Last year, when a series of crises erupted at King/Drew, the supervisors — four of whom have been on the board more than a decade — reacted much as they had before. They called for another task force, which had virtually the same mission as the 1996 group and was even staffed with some of the same people.
Top health department officials took control of King/Drew's operations. And under their watch, the hospital was twice threatened with the immediate loss of federal funding for, among other things, repeatedly bungling medication orders.
When the supervisors announced plans early this year to scale back the hospital's prized neonatal unit, community activists, led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), geared for a fight.
Waters threatened at a protest meeting to climb "on top of [the] desk" of health department officials. A short time later, the county backed off, saying its proposal needed further study.
While the board vacillates, patients suffer.
A cry of despair
In July 1994, Dr. Wilbert Jordan drove to a gold-colored house, trimmed with white, just a block from King/Drew.
Jordan had the sort of news he felt he could deliver only in person: The hospital had given Aleta Clemons, a mother of three, HIV-tainted blood. She might be infected with the deadly virus.
She seemed almost calm when he told her. It wasn't until he was outside that he knew she understood.