Los Angeles County officials said Thursday that they would hire a turnaround consultant to fix the many problems plaguing King/Drew Medical Center, including serious lapses in care that regulators say contributed to five patient deaths.
Anthony Jones, 46, and his employer, Superior Consulting of Southfield, Mich., will be given a one-year contract, worth a total of $466,800, for him to serve as the hospital’s interim chief executive officer.
Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, which oversees the public hospital, said they chose Jones based on his 15-year record of turning around troubled hospitals in Las Vegas; Memphis, Tenn.; Newark and Atlantic City, N.J.; and Flint, Mich.
Thomas Garthwaite, the health department director, sent a memo to the Board of Supervisors on Thursday stating his intent to hire Jones. The board is not expected to oppose the move.
“I was very impressed with the homework that he did prior to his interviews,” Garthwaite said. “He had gone out of his way to find data, and he used it to try to understand what was going on with the medical center and to try to form strategies” to fix it.
The health department took over management of the hospital in October. Garthwaite said the decision was made to recruit an interim chief executive because the hospital’s problems were so pressing that they might deter anyone from applying for a job as a permanent CEO.
Jones probably would start in early May. He said that he has yet to set foot in King/Drew, but that he drove past the hospital on his one visit to Los Angeles this winter.
The consultant said he still must work out some issues with the county, such as whether he will have the power to fire people. He said that removing problem employees had a positive impact at other hospitals where he has worked.
“At one place we had to turn over a lot of the staff, in another we had to turn over some staff,” Jones said. “All of the problems you’re naming now are not new; I’ve seen them before. They are familiar. The only question is how do you go about solving it?”
Jones said his early impression of the hospital is that quality of patient care remains the most significant concern. He also said “there are leadership issues.”
Asked what he could do about the culture of the hospital, Jones said: “I don’t want to pretend that I remotely know what the culture is specifically, but my position as a healthcare administrator is to go in and build a culture of excellence and high performance.
“I’ve looked at all of the financial information and a lot of the human resource issues, and I feel like I have a good fix where they are and where they need to go.”
Jones will be stepping into a charged atmosphere at King/Drew, which has been in turmoil for much of the last year. The hospital, in Willowbrook south of Watts, was built in the early 1970s to serve impoverished, largely minority neighborhoods.
In January, federal inspectors concluded that nurses were told by their bosses to lie about patients’ conditions and patients were often unattended for hours. Such negligence, inspectors concluded, contributed to five patient deaths last year.
In addition, the hospital’s cardiac monitoring ward was shut down when hospital officials discovered that some staff members could not read the monitors, which display patients’ vital signs. Two residency training programs have been terminated by a national accrediting group.
County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, whose district includes the hospital, said she had not yet met Jones.
Burke said Jones would have to comply with county regulations about firing people, which provide opportunities for appeal.
Most workers at the hospital are covered by civil-service protections and many are also members of Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union, which has a separate grievance process for employees who feel they’ve been unfairly treated.
“But if a person is not doing their job or they do not have the qualifications, he is in position to transfer them, and he can put it in the personnel file,” Burke said.
She noted that important information about employees was often not placed in their files in the past. “If those things would have been complied with, those people would be gone,” she said.
A problem over the years has been the hospital’s unwillingness to discipline employees and inability to fire them.
Union officials, however, said they welcomed reform.
“I have to say that until now, our members are by and large happy with the changes that have been instituted at King/Drew,” said Mark Tarnawsky, the union’s communications director.
He added that employees have “been complaining for years about management at the hospital, the short staffing the managers did nothing about. I suppose an individual worker who is not up to snuff may have something to worry about, but by and large our people have welcomed the changes and are hoping that the hospital will be turned around.”
Jones has stepped into controversy before. While in the running for the presidency of St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit in 2000, he became embroiled in a dispute that took on racial overtones.
Jones, who is African American, was initially selected for the job by a hospital search committee. He would have been the first black president of the hospital.
But that decision was reversed by the hospital’s board of trustees, who wanted to hire another candidate, who was white and a veteran executive at the hospital.
The board of trustees of St. John Health System, which oversees the hospital, then stepped in and chose Jones. About 10 of the hospital’s board members resigned in protest.
Jones remained on the job for 18 months before resigning.
“We went in and did a lot of great things, but there were still a lot of people who didn’t feel great about me being there,” Jones said. “Sometimes you can walk on water and they can still reject you. Not to say I was walking on water by any stretch, but I could see where I could do everything that was needed and appropriate and they will still not be happy.”