Tempers Flare Over King/Drew Advisors

Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton), center, and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) hold a news conference at the hospital, where a patient died Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / LAT)
Times Staff Writer

Just months after forming an advisory board to help save the troubled Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday asked for the board’s bylaws to be reworked and even raised the possibility of disbanding it.

The advisory board was one of the chief recommendations of Navigant Consulting Inc., a firm being paid $15 million to run day-to-day operations at the public hospital in Willowbrook, just south of Watts.

Tempers flared as supervisors debated reducing the size of the board and narrowing its mission. At one point, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who asked for a revised set of bylaws by Oct. 25, called the board a “House of Lords.”

“I think if this is the direction we’re going, I should be free to come back and recommend that we have no advisory board,” said County Administrative Officer David Janssen. “We don’t want to continue having this discussion if it isn’t productive.”

The supervisors, along with health department Director Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, have said the board has too many members with conflicts of interest and does not focus enough on hospital management issues. Besides Garthwaite, board members include officials at other hospitals, healthcare experts and a union representative.

Advisory board Chairman Dr. Hector Flores told supervisors that members have committed “an extraordinary amount of time” to solve intractable issues at King/Drew. “We saw it as our imperative to be helpful to you.”

Supervisors also canceled a hearing set for next week on a plan to shut down the obstetrics, neonatal and pediatrics units at the hospital. Garthwaite had rescinded the proposal Friday after learning from state officials that moving ahead would have jeopardized about $29 million in government aid.

Supervisors upbraided Garthwaite and the county’s lawyers for not notifying them sooner that the plan to close the units might be unworkable.

“Your failure to disclose this information … is the latest blunder from your department,” Supervisor Mike Antonovich told Garthwaite.

Supervisor Gloria Molina asked Garthwaite to give the board an update next week on the hospital’s successes and failures and what it will take to fix it.