Drew University Seeks HBCU Status The Charles R. Drew University in south Los Angeles has been training doctors, many of them African American, for decades. Now the medical school wants federal status as an Historically Black College and University (HBCU).
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Drew University Seeks HBCU Status

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Drew University Seeks HBCU Status

Drew University Seeks HBCU Status

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TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox.

In a few minutes, we'll meet a doctor in San Francisco who loves his work. That's even though he treats gunshot and stab wounds at the city's only trauma center.

But in the meantime, here's a question. How many historically black medical colleges can you name west of the Mississippi? Not a one, even though the Charles R. Drew University in South L.A. has been training doctors, many of them African-American, for decades.

Now the medical school wants federal status as an HBCU. It's a way to survive now that Drew U lost county funding and it's primary teaching hospital.

Rachel Myrow of member station KPCC reports.

RACHEL MYROW: In a trailer in South Central, L.A., Dr. Erald Jean-Francois(ph) winds down after a long day of assisting with eye surgeries. This soft-spoken second year resident from Miami can look forward to one more year here before he's got to find another hospital to take him on for his last year of training. More than 200 of Francois' colleagues face similar dilemmas.

Dr. ERALD JOHN FRANCOIS (Medical Student, Charles R. Drew University): Realistically, I don't think all of us will be in Southern California. I think some will have to go to the Midwest, or even to the East Coast. My only hope is that no one will have to sit out a year or lose two or three years of training.

MYROW: Last fall, federal regulators decided to stop funding the King/Drew Medical Center, Drew's primary teaching hospital. They cited unacceptable lapses in the quality of patient care. L.A. County health officials came up with a plan to downsize the hospital and win back the money. But under the new plan, King won't be tied to Drew University. Even the name is changing to Martin Luther King Harbor; that has implications for urban hospitals across America, says Jim Lott with the Hospital Association of Southern California.

Mr. JIM LOTT (Vice President, Hospital Association of Southern California): There's a pipeline of replacement positions that the university provides. And if we cut off that pipeline, we're going to see an immediate impact here. But the branching impact will be felt in other regions - Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Detroit, other places where they need physicians and services that are developed by universities like Drew.

MYROW: For half a century, Drew doctors have practiced at King and Drew residents have trained there. Many graduates have gone on to work at King or hospitals nearby. So why is L.A. County opting to lose the Drew in King/Drew? L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Burke.

Ms. YVONNE BURKE (Supervisor, L.A. County): The physicians who are at Martin Luther King were Drew physicians. They were the ones who were heads of departments. They were the ones running the hospital.

MYROW: Like King, Drew University has gartered negative headlines too, some of them fairly recent. Before this latest crisis, three of Drew's residency programs lost their accreditation and a fourth was put on probation. The school launched into a massive restructuring, restored its standing with regulators, and then L.A. County health officials decided to pull the plug.

Dr. SUSAN KELLY (President, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science): It is true that King/Drew doctors, for the most part, are Drew doctors and that there were problems with some of those doctors.

MYROW: Drew's Tasmanian-born president, Dr. Susan Kelly, arrived last spring to help manage the turnaround.

Dr. KELLY: I have to tell you, those doctors are long gone. They have either been fired or they've retired before being fired, or they were suspended and the case is still going on. But they're not working in our hospital anymore. They're not working for us anymore.

MYROW: Just the same, L.A. County withdrew the $12 million a year it used to pay to provide for the residency training program. That has the school turning on a dime to restructure itself again, Dr. Kelly says.

Dr. KELLY: You know, it's - this is a time of great opportunity for this university cunningly disguised as a series of body blows.

MYROW: Drew is one of only four American medical schools, the only one in the West, that focus on training minority doctors to serve the poor and uninsured. It's also a nexus for research on the kinds of problems that afflict them -diabetes, hypertension and cancers left untreated for too long. That research will continue at Drew's College Of Science And Health, which is expanding, says Sonsoles de Lacalle, she chairs the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

Ms. SONSOLES DE LACALLE (Chair, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Charles S. Drew University) One thing you can aspire to be as a clinician but do something else. Clinicians, they are in their office, they're seeing patients. They are applying treatment protocols that somebody else has discovered. But how about if you are one of the people that go out and discover new protocols, and that's what we are doing here.

MYROW: Once mostly African-American, the neighborhood Drew serves is now largely Latino. Drew is recruiting Latinos for the faculty and the board, but it's also trying to land a federal designation as a historically black college and the federal funds that designation brings. Eventually Drew officials help to rebuild the schools residency programs. They're reaching out to hospitals beyond the one that's now off limits just across the street.

For NPR News, I'm Rachel Myrow.

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