On the same day that the state took a step to pull the license of the troubled Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, the leader of the neighboring university was distancing the school from the controversial facility.
In a “state of the university” address Thursday morning at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, President Susan Kelly stressed the need to distinguish between the campus and the public hospital with which it was long associated.
Drew University physician trainees were traditionally placed in rotations at King-Harbor, formerly known as King/Drew. But last fall, the school was forced to close its 34-year residency program and transfer its 248 medical residents when the hospital downsized in an attempt to keep its federal funding.
“We shared some doctors, but we were never the hospital, and we cannot be accountable for 90% of their problems,” Kelly said.
She acknowledged, however, that “we had some part to play.”
The university is launching an 18-month “rebranding” effort that Kelly said would prevent people from blaming the private nonprofit school for the ordeals of King-Harbor.
Kelly criticized the hospital for leaving up an old sign bearing the King/Drew name, which she said causes passersby and the media to believe the campus and hospital remain interchangeable.
At one point, she asked the nearly 500 audience members to stand up and repeat the school’s full name.
“There are not nearly as many people now who think we are the same place,” Kelly said. “We accepted the scapegoat role for way too long.”
Under a white tent outside the university’s Cobb Building, Kelly praised the school’s history. It was founded, as was the hospital, after the Watts riots of 1965 to train minority doctors who would serve the poor of the South Los Angeles area.
But Kelly, who is wrapping up her first year as president, was equally vocal about the university’s struggles, many of which she blamed on the county’s Board of Supervisors.
“We are facing arguably the most difficult challenges of our 41-year history,” Kelly said. “We are taking a principled stand against poor policy, inept county hospital management and the denial of access to comprehensive, affordable, quality healthcare for the people of South Los Angeles.”
Last fall, King-Harbor faced a cut of $200 million in federal funding when it failed a critical inspection. County supervisors decided to reconfigure the hospital to keep the funds, altering it from a teaching and training institution into a smaller community facility and slashing 15 residency programs affiliated with the university.
The national Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education informed school officials in October that the group planned to revoke the university’s accreditation because of the hospital’s looming loss of Medicare money.
It was not the first time the school had come under negative scrutiny. Lack of accreditation led to the closure of its radiology, surgery and neonatology programs in recent years. Dr. David Satcher, a former surgeon general of the United States, sharply criticized the school in 2003, saying it needed a new “culture of accountability.”
Later, Drew University made progress toward turning itself around after it jettisoned its president and dismissed nearly two-thirds of its board of trustees.
Kelly said the relocation of medical residents, most outside the state, is a blow to disadvantaged communities in Southern California that will no longer have ready access to care.
“There is an out-migration in California of the highest-trained in the greatest-shortage areas,” she said. “My sense is they won’t return to serve a county health system that laid them off in 2007.”