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More King-Harbor training urged

Times Staff Writer

Weeks after the death of a woman who had been writhing in pain on the lobby floor at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke called Friday for mandatory customer service training for some of the hospital’s employees.

Edith Isabel Rodriguez, 43, died May 9 after being released from King-Harbor’s emergency room with medication. Her abdominal pain was so severe that she lay in front of the building until county police officers wheeled her back inside. Eventually county police discovered an outstanding warrant for Rodriguez’s arrest and took her into custody; she died minutes later.

“The first and foremost priority at our hospitals is the patient’s welfare and safety,” Burke said in a statement. “Good interaction between hospital staff and the public is a very important part of service delivery and treatment.”

All county Department of Health Services employees receive customer service training, said spokesman Michael Wilson. The augmented training for King-Harbor staff members, such as nurses who interact with the public every day, would “reinforce the department’s standard of providing timely and compassionate customer service,” according to a statement from the agency.

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Since 2005, the hospital has worked to retrain staff, providing customer service instruction and regular training updates, said Antionette Smith Epps, King-Harbor’s chief executive, in a statement.

Smith Epps said she is “proud of the people who have and continue to provide outstanding customer service” to more than 14,000 patients a month. The hospital will welcome additional training and will work with county health officials “to further develop the skills of staff assigned to high-intensity service locations such as the emergency room and clinics,” she said.

The new instruction would probably occur in small groups of colleagues over several months and could begin as early as this summer, said Michael J. Henry, county human resources director. “This is going to be a long-term effort,” Henry said.

Top county health and human resources officials are set to meet with Burke next week to discuss developing the required program specifically for hospital staff.

The county currently has a voluntary customer service workshop for clerical personnel who deal with the public.

A nurse involved with the King-Harbor incident resigned; the county executive office and the Sheriff’s Department are investigating the case.

Rodriguez’s death sparked outrage among county officials, and comes as the troubled hospital prepares for a critical federal inspection in July that could determine its fate.

The Willowbrook hospital, formerly known as King/Drew, has long struggled with problems in patient care and nearly lost $200 million in federal funding last fall after failing to meet federal requirements.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com


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