Federal inspections are underway at King-Harbor Hospital

Times Staff Writer

Thirteen federal inspectors began a long-awaited examination of the medical competency of troubled Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital on Monday, with the facility’s future hanging on the outcome.

Federal surveyors arrived unannounced and will stay for a week or more to evaluate the Willowbrook hospital on 23 measurements of patient care. Regulators from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will announce their findings by Aug. 15, officials said.

If the hospital flunks the survey, King-Harbor will lose $200 million in federal funding, about half its budget.

Los Angeles County supervisors, who have authority over the public hospital, have said that without federal money they would be forced to close King-Harbor.


Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, whose district includes the hospital, said in a statement that she was “confident that hospital officials and staff have done their best to correct” problems cited by federal officials. “We wish the hospital the best of luck.”

County health chief Dr. Bruce Chernof said the hospital stood at a crucial crossroads: “This department will only operate a hospital that meets national standards, and it is now up to staff to demonstrate compliance.”

Controversy has long dogged the hospital formerly known as King-Drew. But new investigations were triggered in recent months when a 43-year-old woman died after writhing on the emergency room floor untreated. Another patient’s brain surgery was delayed for days until his family drove him to a different hospital for the emergency procedure.

State regulators took steps to revoke King-Harbor’s license last month.

The hospital has struggled to meet federal standards since failing an inspection last fall. Since then, the county has shrunk the hospital to 48 beds from about 250, eliminated specialty services, shuffled staff and put the facility under the management of another county hospital, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance.

County health officials have developed contingency plans in the event King-Harbor shuts down. They include rerouting patients to nearby facilities and searching for a private entity to operate the hospital.