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Federal regulators made a final decision Friday to pull two hundred million dollars in funding out from under King Harbor hospital leaving one of Los Angeles' most underserved neighborhoods without a medical facility. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials made the announcement via a letter to hospital administrator Antoinette Epps. The Medicare provider agreement will be terminated effective August 15, they said.
"I've already heard people making threats like "you think '65 was something…'," South Central resident Cliff McLain said only half jokingly referring to the Watts Riots. ""Some people are feeling "it's the same old thing, we always suffer the brunt of whatever.'
"If folks were really thinking they would have said to some people, "help us out.' I'm sure it could have been salvaged," he said.
CMS officials disagreed apparently, stating that it has "worked with the administration of MLK-Harbor and the Los Angeles County Health Department for the past three years in the interest of the health care needs of South Los Angeles residents.
"[We have] provided technical assistance and allowed ample time for the hospital to plan and implement the measures necessary to achieve and maintain compliance with Medicare health and safety standards. Repeated certification surveys and complaint investigations have identified serious health and safety violations," they said.
Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite-Burke whose district houses King Harbor, said the County's "immediate task is to implement the Department of Health Services' contingency plan, which includes an orderly and least disruptive transfer of patients, employees and services," she said.
The stop gap solution involves keeping the urgent care center open, which could handle at least 180,000 patients per year, along with two full time on-site Advanced Life Support ambulances. Burke said she is "disappointed with the inspection results." However, fellow supervisor Mike Antonovich sees the move as positive and a better way to help the "mostly low-income residents in the area." ""It's good news because it brings closure to this never-ending saga," he told reporters Friday.
Martin Luther King Medical Center opened its doors a few years after the 1965 Watts Riots revealed the severity of the lives of poor people who lived in the area. The county-run hospital has suffered scrutiny for years but most recently came under fire after a series of Los Angeles Times articles highlighted a myriad of problems within the institution. Congresswoman Maxine Waters had been very vocal with her outrage at the articles, stating that the Times was "seeking a Pulitzer Prize on the backs of the poor." "Community leaders and residents were pulling for the hospital before it suffered what was seen as a final blow recently when a patient died on the emergency room floor while being ignored by hospital personnel. "Last year 50,000 patients received care in MLK's emergency room.
"There have been people who could have helped out and done whatever was necessary to help out," McLain said.
"It's not only going to impact the Watts community. It's going to impact all of the hospitals… folks have to go somewhere, so everybody's going to feel the pinch."
Hospitals to take up patients will most likely be Harbor UCLA in Torrance, California Hospital Medical Center, Centinela-Freeman, Downey, Kaiser Permanente-Bellflower, St. Francis in nearby Lynwood and White Memorial. "Burke said she will be conducting an outreach program to inform residents of their options.