It looks like it might be the end for King Drew, or as it’s known now, King–Harbor. Some of the LA board of supervisors are in favor of closing the hospital immediately, and yesterday the State of California initiated proceedings to revoke its license. No one can pretend that this hasn’t been coming for quite some time. A couple of years back, a long series in the LA Times found incredible graft, mismanagement, and corruption and appallingly poor care quality at King Drew. Given the hospital’s origins after the Watts riots of the 1960s, and its special place in the African-American downtown community, doing anything to King-Drew has always been politically charged issue. But after the recent incidents, particularly the one where the woman was left to die on the floor of the emergency department waiting room while nurses ignored her, and cleaning staff swept up around her, the hospital seems to have finally run out of defenders.
On the other hand, this is emblematic of a wider problem in American health care—how do you provide care to the poor in a system where there is no universal coverage or systemic primary care? Bob Sillen, who now runs California’s prison health care system, but used to run Santa Clara Valley Medical Center used to remark that if there wasn’t a County Hospital in which to showcase how the poor were treated it would be impossible to get any attention on to the issue.
So it is my hope that as we enter a period of concern about the future of universal insurance coverage, we don’t abandon the extremely limited safety net that is in place for the poor while we all focus on fixing the wider systemic problems.