County weighs hospital monitor

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday considered instituting a permanent, independent investigator to keep watch over the county’s troubled hospital and clinic system.

The proposal came a day after new disclosures about the level of incompetence among employees at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, 11% of whom had undisclosed criminal records.

The investigator job was proposed by Supervisor Gloria Molina, who said trouble at King-Harbor developed in part because officials with the county Department of Health Services kept problems secret from the board.


“I think what we have is lousy management,” she said, “that for some reason is frightened of telling us the truth or doesn’t have the ability to tell us the truth and conjure up all kinds of interesting stories to tell us to keep us blind to the real facts that are going on. So I’ve just about had it.”

The board directed county Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka to return next week with a proposal outlining how an independent investigator would operate.

Molina suggested that it might be modeled on Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, who is charged by the supervisors to monitor and investigate the Sheriff’s Department.

“We have a . . . safety net responsibility for healthcare, and I’m troubled every single day by the fact that we may be losing control of the administration of that safety net,” Molina said.

“It isn’t the fact that we don’t have money, although that is one of the issues, and that we don’t have dedicated employees.”

The decision came amid significant public outcry over Monday’s disclosure that a high percentage of King-Harbor workers have criminal records and performed poorly on tests that evaluated their competency to treat patients.


According to a report by the county’s auditor-controller, 152 employees among 1,356 reviewed at King-Harbor had criminal records and the quality of nurses at King-Harbor was poor compared with other medical facilities in the county system.

“It sends the terrible message that minorities and poor people do not deserve the highest standards in staff medical care,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.

“King should not be a dumping ground for incompetent employees and those who commit crimes.”

The full extent of the problem is still unknown.

Fujioka and John Schunhoff, the interim director of the Department of Health Services, on Tuesday continued to refuse to reveal the full extent of the incompetence and crimes among King-Harbor staffers.

When they first discovered the problems with criminal histories, Fujioka and Schunhoff did not immediately disclose the news to the public.

Fujioka orally communicated information about the crimes to the supervisors, and Schunhoff omitted the information from public records that described the county’s response to human resources problems at King-Harbor.


Fujioka later acknowledged a portion of the criminal discoveries when asked about them by The Times.

The review that discovered the criminal histories and incompetence came in response to an article in The Times that King-Harbor workers were not fully vetted as promised when the hospital’s inpatient services shut down last year.

Federal regulators forced the closure after determining that minimum standards for patient care were not being met.