Transfusion at the Top at King/Drew

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Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles County health officials installed a temporary management team Thursday to oversee day-to-day operations at its beleaguered Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, the latest sign of a growing crisis enveloping the hospital.

The four-person group is charged with examining why the hospital has faltered on so many fronts and finding ways to shore it up, county officials said. King/Drew’s administrator and medical director -- also interim leaders -- will both report to the temporary team.

The move comes one day after the hospital learned it had received an “unfavorable” assessment from a national accrediting group, the first step toward revoking its ability to train any physician specialists. The hospital can appeal the rating.


As quickly as its formation was announced, the management team was denounced by some community activists who say it is a ploy to take power away from the hospital and give it to downtown bureaucrats. They believe that the county Department of Health Services has caused King/Drew’s problems by starving it of resources.

“These people have no sense of the history of what’s going on,” said Ernie Smith, a professor of medicine and clinical linguistics at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, which runs training programs at the hospital. “They’ve got the fox guarding the henhouse.”

But Dr. Alfred Forrest, the hospital’s interim medical director, said he considers installation of the management team a “very positive” step and a chance for King/Drew to show county officials not only the difficulties it faces, but the good things that happen there as well.

“The more brains working on resolving the issues the better,” he said.

One of the management group’s first moves would be to temporarily transfer the functions of the hospital’s human resources office to the health department downtown, agency spokesman John Wallace said.

The human resources office has backlogs in a number of areas, Wallace said, including processing new hires, completing performance evaluations and addressing other personnel matters.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said David Runke, chairman of the interim management panel and chief financial officer at County-USC Medical Center. “Assuming that the programs are in the type of shape that it would appear that they are, turning that around can’t happen overnight.”


In the longer run, Runke’s panel will focus on improving medical training at the hospital. Citing deficiencies, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education is closing the radiology and surgery residency programs next June. Four other programs have received warnings or probation. The “unfavorable” assessment announced this week applies to the oversight of all 18 training programs.

The committee will also help identify how the hospital can cut 5% more from its budget next year as part of a county mandate that it become more efficient.

The management team becomes the fourth group to launch inquiries recently into King/Drew.

A state Assembly select committee probing the hospital’s woes held its first hearing last month, and a task force led by former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher will begin examining the hospital’s physician training programs next month.

The county auditor-controller will also study how the Drew medical school spends the $13.8 million it is given annually to run doctor training programs at the hospital.

Runke said he and his colleagues expect criticism from some community members because most of them are white. Racial tension has flared frequently over the years between the county and King/Drew, which was founded after the Watts riots and treats an overwhelmingly African American and Latino population.

“We are prepared to deal with that,” Runke said. “I would think that that’s likely.”

Other members of the county’s management team are Dr. William Loos, medical director of Olive View-UCLA Medical Center; Gary Wells, the health department’s finance director; and Sachi Hamai, the department’s director of administrative services.


“This management oversight group is made up of seasoned administrators who are familiar not only with the history of King/Drew, but with the history of the whole department,” Wallace said.

County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said the team is “absolutely necessary.” A major problem, she said, is that some department chairs at the hospital have been allowed to remain in their positions far too long because community activists have fought change.

“Personally, I think I should have pushed for many of these people to be replaced,” she said. “But any time anything is done, the community has become totally upset.... There’s enough blame to go around for everyone, but the important thing is, it’s time to move forward.”

The management committee probably will stay in place until the county hires a new chief executive and medical director for the hospital, Wallace said.

The hospital has been without a permanent administrator since Randall Foster left in February 2002.

Its last permanent medical director, Dr. Edward Savage, retired last October. Those positions are being filled on an interim basis by Willie May and Forrest, respectively.


The county is interviewing candidates for the medical director job and hopes to have a new director in place in the next couple of months, Wallace said. He added that an outside recruiter has been hired to find a new chief executive and that the search is still in its early stages.