Assemblymember Mike Gipson discusses the impending shutdown of MLKCH. (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)


Seventeen maternity wards have closed in L.A. County over the past decade and now, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Healthcare (MLKCH) is not only facing a looming threat to its maternity ward, but the hospital is facing a complete closure altogether.

In response to this information, Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson held a press conference on June 7 to sound the alarm on the impending shutdown of both the hospital and maternity ward, which would negatively impact women all over South L.A. and surrounding neighborhoods.

Gipson was joined by State Senator Steven Bradford, MLK Community Healthcare CEO Dr. Elaine Batchlor, and dozens of healthcare physicians and frontline workers.

“Due to the poor medical reimbursement rate. It is time for the state to step up and support MLKCH in ways that reflect the situation’s reality and the need for this community. We call on my colleagues in both the State Assembly, the State Senate and also our governor to do what is right,” said Gipson.

Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO of MLK Community Healthcare (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

“I am urging my colleagues to help restructure this hospital’s existing funding model so that it can sustain the operation needs that this community deserves.”

Reasons cited for the closures happening nationwide include declining birthrates, staffing shortages, increased costs, and Draconian antiabortion laws. An observer noted that hospitals that appear highly likely and easiest to close are often those most reliant on Medicaid, which reimburses at lower rates than commercial insurers, and obstetric unit loss, specifically, is more common among those units that serve a larger share of Black patients.

Government-run and nonprofit hospitals tend to maintain labor and delivery units even if they are losing money overall, according to state data on hospital finances. State law requires nonprofit hospitals such as MLKCH to address community needs as part of maintaining their tax-exempt status.

“When our hospital opened in 2015, we promised our public partners, the county and the state that we would provide quality care,” stated Batchlor.

Originally built to see about 25,000 emergency patients a year, MLKCH is on track to treat 125,000 such patients in 2024. The hospital is reimbursed at Medicaid rates and California has among the lowest provider payment rates in the nation.

For example, MLKCH receives about $2,000 from commercial insurance for an emergency department visit. Medicare pays $650 for the same visit while Medi-Cal only pays $150. A staff shortage of 1,500 physicians is also adding to the stress.

“MLKCH is at the edge of a financial cliff. We operate one of the busiest emergency departments in the state and we have the worst pair mix of any independent freestanding general acute-care hospital in the state. We lose money on every one of those patient visits,” said the CEO.

Batchlor further explained how the community healthcare center absorbed the emergency department losses in its operating budget, but as the volume grew and continues to grow, it continued losing money effecting its ability to keep up with its finances.

“Our hospital’s unique circumstances put us at a particular risk. MLKCH is one of the few options our community members have for healthcare. We ask the governor and our policymakers in Sacramento to recognize our demonstrated excellence, the critical role we play in healthcare access in this community and to provide us with the funding we must have to continue to do our essential work,” she concluded.

MLKCH provides 24/7 on-site support of both an obstetrician and a registered nurse-midwife, giving patients the support of a trained and empathetic nurse midwife and the emergency capabilities of an obstetrician if something goes wrong. Nurse-midwives provide more sensitive and individualized care, an especially urgent concern for Black women, who are at higher risk of dying in pregnancy and childbirth than women of other races in the U.S.

Informing the crowd of his personal ties to MLKCH, Bradford said, “This facility has a special meeting to me because my mother retired as a nurse after working more than 20 years here. It also has a special connection to me because as a high school senior, this was the only job I ever had and I worked on the third floor surgical ward. This facility is vitally needed.”

“I’m here committed to stand side by side with my colleague Mike Gibson and making sure Martin Luther King Hospital gets the resources that it needs because it’s going to be the difference in saving lives,” Bradford concluded.

“I’m here to advocate that we not only fund this hospital, but we give them the resources they need to keep the doors open to continue to serve the community who so vitally needs it.”

“I am asking for $25 million of supplemental funds to be adjustment in the 2024/2025 budget year. This is not just a matter of keeping the doors open, it is about ensuring that a community of over 1 million residents, 96% of whom are publicly insured. This hospital has never turned anyone-regardless of your ability to pay,” Gibson stressed.

Representatives from elected officials were also in attendance along with the Compton Mayor Emma Sharif and officials from LA Unified School District explaining how much the people they serve depend upon the medical center. Frontline workers and practitioners provided additional perspectives on the overwhelming workload created from being under resourced.

To keep MLKCH open, officials encouraged residents to contact local elected representatives to express support and advocate for funding to operate the hospital and provide the facility with the needed resources to serve the community.