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Recruitment of Doctors at King Hospital Angers County Officials

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County supervisors reacted strongly Tuesday to letters and job applications sent last week by an Oakland medical group to county doctors in anticipation of being awarded a contract to take over the busy emergency room at troubled Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky demanded to know how California Emergency Physicians Medical Group got the names and addresses of emergency room doctors at the county-run hospital, and why they were so confident of winning a contract when no decision has been made to privatize the county’s second-busiest trauma center.

“This doesn’t meet the smell test,” he said. “This is not a minor issue, but it certainly is indicative of a system run amok in some fashion.”

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Yaroslavsky wondered aloud why the medical group would send letters advising county doctors to immediately return job applications if they wanted to remain on the staff and continue practicing at the hospital.

Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, whose district includes the hospital near Watts, echoed his concerns. “I don’t understand who could have given out the names. I don’t understand how these people could get this impression,” she said. “There is something very unusual about this.”

While promising to find out what happened in the incident first reported in The Times, Mark Finucane, the county’s new health services director, vowed that he will not tolerate such actions within the vast health department and its network of hospitals, health centers and community clinics.

Finucane said he is eager to change the way the department operated before his arrival two weeks ago. “From now on,” he said, “it’s just not going to be the way we do business.”

He also warned all in his department that they would be responsible to him for violations of his approach to running the $2.3-billion-a-year operation that provides health care to the poor and those without health insurance.

At his request, Finucane said California Emergency Physicians had sent a letter of apology. A spokesman for the medical group could not be reached for comment.

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The Times reported Friday that the letters to doctors had caused turmoil in the emergency room, which has been troubled for years.

In the letter, a recruiting manager for the medical group wrote: “I am sure that you have heard that California Emergency Physicians Medical Group (CEP) anticipates contracting with Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center for providing emergency services in the near future. With this in mind, I am sending you a CEP application in case you have a desire to join our group and continue your practice at the medical center.”

Assistant Health Services Director Walter Gray said last week that the medical group and the Charles R. Drew University Medical School had sent the county an unsolicited joint proposal to take over the emergency room.

Gray declined to comment after Tuesday’s board meeting. But he said previously that the proposal would be evaluated based on what was best for patient care and whether it would save the county money and meet regulatory requirements.

Finucane told the supervisors that his first priority is completing a search for a new chairman of the embattled department of emergency medicine at King.

The Civil Service Commission recently found that the hospital and affiliated medical school has an “unwritten policy of maintaining itself as a black institution and of placing black candidates in positions of leadership . . . to the exclusion of non-blacks.”

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Finucane acknowledged that “there are profound departmentwide implications” in any move to privatize the emergency room.

Yaroslavsky told Finucane that he wants answers to why the Oakland group was confident enough to send the letters to the doctors. For the medical group to send such letters without some indication that they would actually get the contract would be foolish. “My suspicion is they aren’t foolish,” Yaroslavsky said.

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