Los Angeles Waits to Learn Fate of King Drew Hospital

The only historically black hospital in Los Angeles has survived scandals and setbacks. Supporters of the King Drew Medical Center in Watts are now waiting for the results of a federal inspection that could eliminate much of the hospitals government funding and force it to close.

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Here in Los Angeles, a hospital created from the ashes of the Watts' riots, could be forced to shut down, soon. It all depends on the verdict of Medicare inspectors who just finished an extensive examination of King Drew Medical Center.

The hospital has been called one of the worst in the country, but King Drew is the only hospital serving some of the city's poorest people. And as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, many who count on it are afraid of losing it.

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MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

Over the weekend, big crowds gathered for Watts Summer Festival. But as people celebrated, many also worried about the future of King Drew. Sharita Jackson(ph) and Angie Hunter(ph) said Watts has enough problems without losing its only hospital.

Ms. SHARITA JACKSON (Resident, Watts, California): I say, I like King Drew. I wish they quit messing with my hospital. That's a community hospital. We need that hospital. People don't have the transportation to go way downtown and way to Hollywood.

King saved my life.

Ms. ANGIE HUNTER (Resident, Watts, California): Saved a lot of people's lives.

Ms. Jackson: They need to try to build it up, instead of trying to make all them people lose their jobs and stuff. Fix it. If something's wrong with it, fix it.

DEL BARCO: For years, King Drew has been rocked with scandal. Investigators claim the hospital mistreated many patients and let others die because of neglect or incompetence among the medical staff. Some people got the wrong medicine and when psychiatric patients got rowdy, the hospital subdued them with Tasers.

All the scandals cost King Drew its national accreditation. Now, federal regulators are trying to determine if the hospital has fixed its problems. If the just-finished inspection goes the wrong way, it could be the end for King Drew.

Watts' resident Charles Holland(ph) says the problems are real but losing the hospital would still be a shame.

Mr. CHARLES HOLLAND (Resident, Watts, California): Well you know, they have -it has a reputation, they call it Killer King. But what hospital don't have people that that died in it, you know? The whole community's going to need it, still. I mean, you know, everything gets bad publicity every now and then. But if they close it down or something, then where everybody's going to go? You know? In case something big happened?

DEL BARCO: Where to go for medical attention continues to be a crucial issue for people living in South Central, L.A., especially the uninsured. In fact, even back in 1965, the lack of a nearby affordable hospital helped fuel the tensions that led to the Watts' riots. After the ashes cooled, people fought to get King Drew built.

Mr. TIMOTHY WATKINS (Labor Community Action Committee, Watts, California): It was a crown jewel of the area. That was the one thing that really expressed a redeeming kind of quality coming out of the 1965 revolt.

DEL BARCO: Timothy Watkins runs the Watts' Labor Community Action Committee. His father Ted was one of the early crusaders for King Drew. Watkins says the hospital has been a lifeline for low-income and uninsured people in the area. And he says many suffered when King Drew was forced to close its busy trauma center last year. Now, he fears inspectors will pull the plug altogether.

Mr. WATKINS: The horse is down and now we're just kicking it. But without a reprieve, it's been in the constant turmoil moving from one failed inspection to the next.

Representative MAXINE WATERS (Democrat, California): This is our hospital...

DEL BARCO: Back at the Watts' Festival, Congressman Maxine Waters told the worried crowd, she believes King Drew will pass its latest review. And backstage she blamed the press for making the problems worse with stories that smeared the facility.

Rep. WATERS: The hospital has been through an awful lot. And I know that people have been working hard to correct problems. So we want our hospital. Some people have no place else to go.

DEL BARCO: Waters says she's hopeful that King Drew will not only survive the inspection, but also restore the trauma center the community so desperately needs.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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