The COVID-19 Pandemic has pushed the hospital and its staff to the limits. But yet, these dedicated and frontline professionals keep going.
It has been a little over five years since Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital re-opened its facilities along the 105 freeway, on Willowbrook Blvd. Over those few short years, the hospital’s campus and staff have grown immensely. There are new and remodeled buildings throughout the campus and the overall tenor around the facilities is of a community of healthcare providers who enjoy their work, enjoy the environment, and have a true appreciation for serving their community. But that was the world Pre-COVID-19. Yet, despite the challenges, the MLK staff hasn’t stopped cherishing their careers and serving their community. MLK has a staff who put their lives on the line daily, in the pursuit of service to others.
Because of this pandemic, California is in a true medical crisis and no place reflects this more than MLK. It has been well-documented that Black and Brown people have suffered from the Coronavirus more than any other community. The pre-existing health conditions, along with inadequate health care and often times an unwillingness to seek preventative health treatment all make this pandemic a recipe for disaster.
Dr. Elaine Batchlor has been the president and CEO of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital since it opened in 2015. She has guided the hospital and the community with steadfast leadership, which has been recognized throughout the county and throughout the country. Last year, along with the help of now Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who was then one of only two African American California State Senators, she managed to stop Governor Gavin Newsom from drastically cutting the hospital’s budget in order to maintain desperately-needed hospital funding. Now, she and her staff are in the battle of their lives. The pandemic has overwhelmed the hospital, but Dr. Batchlor and her staff have vowed to keep fighting.
MLK is at full capacity and with an already limited supply of ICU beds, ventilators and other desperately-needed equipment, the hospital staff have had to go to extraordinary measures to provide services to those most in need. At present time, MLK has had to set up emergency operations in the hospitals gift shop, in the chapel and in tents outside of the hospital. She recently told CNN, “We are thinking ahead in a crisis like this. If we continue to see an increase in the number of COVID patients, we may be forced to do some things that all health care professionals just loathe having to think about. We use what they call in the battlefield as triage techniques doing assessments of each person needs and prognosis and using scarce resources for patients who are most likely to benefit from this therapy.”
To be clear, MLK and Dr. Batchlor want people to understand that they are not, and will not, turn away anyone needing medical treatment. They have turned every conceivable space within the hospital into a patient treatment area. But the challenges have been greater than anything she has seen in her medical career. She says she started her medical career during the AIDS epidemic, but that this pandemic, which effects every aspect of the community, is far greater than that. She also emphasizes that the “social conditions” for low-income and Black and Brown communities puts our people at a much greater risk than in other communities. Over 25% of the patients they are currently seeing are testing COVID positive. A large reason for this is because the people in our community are the essential workers. “The people who live in our community are the essential workers; they are the grocery stockers, bus drivers and clean-up crews, which also means we are the ones most likely to be exposed to the virus.” She also explains that communities of color also tend to live in more crowded homes which means when one person is exposed to the virus, the entire family is at greater risk.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell has been a steadfast, hands on supporter of the hospital. “MLK Hospital has been an anchor for our communities during this pandemic but it is being strained. We need more nurses and staff to help meet the high demand of residents seeking care. I know that this is an unfortunate reality across the state but I am asking for an equitable share of resources, funding, staffing – whatever can be provided from the state and federal government. I am hopeful that with Biden administration additional resources will come in, but we must remain diligent about following guidelines to help stop this surge. To help with relieving the long lines for testing at MLK, my office is working to bring more mobile testing options throughout the district with various health partners. I also remain in constant communication with Dr. Elaine Batchlor and other healthcare leaders on the real life impact this crisis has on their workers and our communities. The challenge is that our path out of this pandemic remains tied to our collective willingness to follow public health guidelines. I cannot stress the importance of socially distancing and wearing a mask enough,” she said.
These risk factors, on top of Black and Brown communities already living with a higher rate of pre-existing conditions like diabetes and heart disease, makes our community that much more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19. Dr. Batchlor explains that our community, pre-pandemic, already had a shortage of about 1,200 physicians, the lowest hospital bed count in the county, along with poorly-treated chronic conditions, makes the residents of our community the least-likely to survive when infected by the virus.
But Dr. Batchlor also wants people to understand that communities of color can also benefit most from getting vaccinated. While, generally, communities and people of color are less trusting of the government and medical treatment, she says that the vaccine is the safest and most effective way to get us out of this pandemic.
“We have a lot of education to do within our community to make sure people understand that the vaccine is safe and effective.” Our staff at this hospital are predominantly African American, Latino, Asian … people of color. We are leading the way by getting the vaccine ourselves. Over a thousand of our staff have already been vaccinated. I have received my vaccine, and I want people to know in our community that it is safe and most effective treatment, and what we all need to do to protect ourselves and our community.”