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Plan Would Transfer King/Drew Patients

Times Staff Writer

Patients at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center would be scattered among beds at county and private hospitals as King/Drew is downsized, restaffed and placed under the control of another hospital over the next year, according to a county plan obtained Monday by The Times.

Los Angeles County Health Services Director Dr. Bruce Chernof is expected to present the detailed proposal -- designed to keep the Willowbrook hospital afloat and avoid losing federal funding -- to the Board of Supervisors today.

The plan, under which Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance would run King/Drew, temporarily redistributes patient beds across the county as employees are recruited and trained by Harbor-UCLA management and specialized medical services such as pediatric intensive care are phased out. The whole process, which includes expanding Harbor-UCLA, should take three years.

The refashioned Harbor-MLK Community Hospital is set to open March 1 with 42 beds, increasing to a maximum of 114 by November 2007; other county or private hospitals would absorb the rest of King/Drew’s daily average of 153 patients, according to the plan. The county also would ask federal officials to delay stripping King/Drew of $200 million for one year, plus pay a one-time transitional cost of $50 million or less.

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Preliminary estimates show Harbor-MLK’s budget, including the cost of services shifted to other county facilities, would be $500 million next fiscal year, compared with King/Drew’s projected $450-million budget for the same time frame.

The hospital’s planned management overhaul and reductions in services come after it flunked a critical federal inspection last month. King/Drew stands to lose nearly half its budget by Dec. 1.

The county plans to seek federal approval of the plan, dubbed MetroCare, by Nov. 1. Federal inspections of the new Harbor-MLK are set for next summer. The smaller community hospital, which would include an emergency room and expanded outpatient services, must meet all federal requirements to receive funding.

“Implementing MetroCare will be difficult and challenging, but it is the best approach to keep core hospital services on the grounds of the current” King/Drew, Chernof wrote in the proposal.

Although there is no guarantee of federal approval, Chernof expressed confidence that the proposal “materially meets” federal regulators’ requirements. Both hospitals would retain their own accreditation, state licenses and federal funding contracts. Employees in good standing would not be laid off, but they are set to be reassigned across the county in phases. Transportation service between King/Drew, near Watts, and Harbor-UCLA is to begin later this year.

Community healthcare advocates sent a letter to Chernof last week complaining that many local residents and organizations had been excluded from plans to determine King/Drew’s future, and that community members seldom turn to Harbor-UCLA for medical aid. The letter recommends establishing a joint county, state, and federal and county task force to improve the hospital, maintaining increasing the number of beds at King/Drew and providing offering weekly updates on the project’s its progress.

Leaders have “deep concern that the process is so closed,” said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils. “We’re being left sort of out of the loop in this process.”

County health officials are to detail costs of the plan to the board in 30 days; a hearing on the hospital cuts is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Nov. 6 at the county Hall of Administration.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com


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