Image: Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital
Nick Ut  /  AP file
Federal regulators said Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles has placed patients in danger and that regulators will end an agreement that provided the in-city hospital with $200 million in funding, a decision that almost certainly means the hospital will close.
updated 8/10/2007 8:17:12 PM ET 2007-08-11T00:17:12

Federal regulators said Friday that they are pulling $200 million in funding from a troubled hospital that serves one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, forcing it to all but shut down.

The decision came after the county-run Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital failed two federal inspections.

At a news conference late Friday, Los Angeles County’s chief medical officer told reporters that the hospital would close its emergency room Friday night and that patients would be moved to other hospitals within two weeks.

“We brought every resource to bear, but in the end it just wasn’t enough, fast enough,” Dr. Bruce Chernof said.

King-Harbor will remain open 16 hours a day, seven days a week, to offer outpatient care to people with routine medical problems, Chernof said. Ambulances will be available to take the more seriously ill to other hospitals.

During the past few years, Los Angeles County tried to improve patient care through disciplining workers, reorganizing management, closing the trauma unit and reducing the number of inpatient beds to 48.

Yet Herb Kuhn, acting deputy administrator for the U.S. Centers of Medicare and Medical Services, said a federal inspection as recently as last month found “conditions at the facility have placed the health and safety of patients at great risk.”

“While some progress has been made, significant problems persist,” Kuhn said in a statement.

Hospital may close
The federal agency plans to end its hospital provider agreement with King-Harbor on Wednesday. The hospital can apply for reinstatement, but that would take three to four months because federal regulators would want to be assured that King-Harbor’s problems have been corrected.

The federal action means the hospital is no longer eligible for reimbursement for the costs of caring for Medicare patients. The county has warned that loss of the funding — about half the hospital’s budget — would force King-Harbor to close.

King-Harbor, which has about 1,600 employees, handled about 50,000 emergency room patients last year. A contingency plan is already in place to shift patients to other hospitals, and officials have said they would try to find a private operator to take over the facility and reopen it, perhaps in a year.

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“This is good news because it brings closure to this never-ending saga,” county Supervisor Michael Antonovich said in a statement. “It allows the county to move forward in bringing quality medical care to an area where the status quo chose to keep a bag over their head.”

Troubled by poor care
The hospital was built after the 1965 Watts riots to bring health care to poor, minority communities in south Los Angeles. In recent years, poor patient care has been blamed for several deaths.

A woman died in May after writhing untreated on the floor of the emergency room lobby for 45 minutes. In February, a brain tumor patient languished in the emergency room for four days before his family drove him to another hospital for emergency surgery.

The hospital failed a federal inspection in September 2006 but managed to remain open under a reorganization that shifted services to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and reduced inpatient beds from 250 to 48.

The second inspection last month found that the hospital still had failed to comply with federal standards in eight of 23 areas, ranging from nursing services to patients’ rights, according to a letter to King’s administrator, Antoinette Epps.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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