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King Hospital Takes Steps to Remedy Its Ills : More Staff, Funds Sought in Wake of Care Allegations

Times Staff Writer

As part of a plan to correct scores of serious patient-care deficiencies at Martin Luther King Jr./ Drew Medical Center in Watts, hospital officials have already begun recruiting staff to improve nutrition and nursing services at the hospital and plan to ask the county for $3.5 million to purchase new equipment, according to county health services chief Robert Gates.

These are among 15 specific actions the hospital is taking to correct deficiencies cited by federal and state authorities in recent weeks. If problems are not corrected by Dec. 21, federal officials have threatened to shut off $60 million a year in public health dollars--effectively shutting the hospital down.

The funding threat followed a series of articles in The Times and two separate state reports citing serious health-care problems at the 430-bed facility.

Meanwhile, a dispute among L.A. County supervisors broke out late Friday over a decision they reached during a closed-door meeting Tuesday to remove William Delgardo from his post as the hospital’s administrator.

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The dispute centered on whether Supervisor Kenneth Hahn--in whose district the hospital lies--had supported Delgardo’s ouster in private session. In public, he has opposed it, which has sparked protests and rallies on Delgardo’s behalf by the black community served by the hospital.

Delgardo has said he believes the move was “not fair” and has reportedly taken his case directly to Louis Sullivan, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington.

Deputies to Supervisors Pete Schabarum and Michael Antonovich charged Friday that while Hahn has repeatedly defended Delgardo in public, he supported Delgardo’s ouster during Tuesday’s private session.

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Hahn’s chief deputy, Mas Fukai, retorted that Antonovich’s and Schabarum’s deputies are “liars.” He added that it is “against the rules” to disclose discussions held in executive session.

But Kathryn Barger and Judy Hammond, aides to Antonovich and Schabarum, respectively, said that Hahn’s “hypocritical” public posturing has served to inflame passions in the community, distracting people from the urgent matter at hand--cleaning up the hospital.

Hahn, who is recovering from respiratory distress, was not available for comment Friday.

Lack of Funds Cited

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After the private meeting on Tuesday, Hahn emerged, declaring publicly: “Let the record show that I support Bill Delgardo. I think what was wrong at King was that we did not appropriate enough money or put enough physicians there.”

Gates has reported that he has dispatched five investigators from the health department’s inspection and audit division to conduct an investigation of King, and a departmental task force has been set up to “assist in resolving identified areas of deficiency and monitoring corrective action taken.”

The corrective actions he said have been taken include:

* Closing the faculty’s sleeping lounge in the emergency department and requiring that senior doctors be present in their offices or in the emergency room.

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* Recruiting additional staff to augment nursing and dietary staff to ensure that “100% patient nutritional assessments are conducted.”

* Increasing surveillance of infections and monitoring the disposal of used respiratory products.

* Establishing a team to monitor nursing care daily.

* Authorizing immediate hiring of additional housekeeping personnel and assigning administrative staff to supervise housekeeping rounds.

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