OLIVE VIEW OPERATES IN GOOD HEALTH HOSPITAL SET TO EXPAND WHILE KING-HARBOR IN CRISIS MODE.
MAR -- They are both public hospitals in low-income communities, where poor and uninsured residents line up for hours to see a doctor.
And they are both in the middle of gang territory, where the patients frequently include victims of violence.
is the end of the similarities between Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar and King-Harbor Hospital in Willowbrook, according to officials, community leaders and even some patients.
"The difference is (Olive View) operates with positive political support," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, whose district includes the Sylmar facility. "Our motto is 'People first, quality always."'
As officials with Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital scramble to avert a possible closure of their facility, county leaders are pushing forward with plans to expand Olive View.
Groundbreaking is expected this fall on a $49 million project that will include a 31,000-square-foot emergency room. With 30 beds rather than the current 12, officials estimate they'll be able to significantly reduce wait times and increase the number of people treated.
An additional 10,000 square feet will house rooms for patients with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.
"The goal is to provide a more state-of-the-art emergency department to meet the growing needs of the community," said Gretchen McGinley, interim CEO of Olive View.
While the five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is responsible for funding and overseeing all five of the county hospitals, Antonovich said the success -- or failure -- of each facility rests on the decisions made by the supervisor representing the district.
Antonovich took issue with the fact that the entire board was criticized for problems of incompetence and mismanagement at King-Harbor, even though the hospital is in the South Los Angeles district represented by Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke.
"It was political interference that let that hospital sink in the sewer," Antonovich said in a recent interview.
"We do not have that in the other medical facilities. (The other supervisors) have been constructive forces with regard to hospitals in their district, not keeping (staff and administrators) who have not maintained the highest standards."
Burke did not return phone calls or respond to written requests for an interview.
But a King-Harbor official said recently that the hospital has been unfairly targeted and that steady improvements have been made.
Federal health officials have been inspecting the hospital this week to determine whether lapses in the facility's emergency room have been corrected.
After an earlier inspection this summer, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on June 25 lifted the "immediate jeopardy" status from the emergency department, said spokeswoman Mary Carroll.
"Our emergency department triage process has been reassessed and strengthened," Carroll said. "The emergency transfer process has been improved."
"What King-Harbor has gone through is a lot of change," Carroll said. "This hospital is beautiful. It's vibrant. It's clean. Hopefully, people can realize what a fine facility it is so we can move forward."
But a May incident continues to reverberate. In that case, Edith Rodriguez, a 43-year-old mother of three, died on the floor of the emergency room while awaiting treatment.
Officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have said they will pull funding for King-Harbor if it fails an overall inspection. A decision is expected by Aug. 15.
At the same time, state Department of Health Services has moved to revoke the license of King-Harbor amid allegations of incompetence and mismanagement.
Antonovich and other county leaders have said they would not fight efforts to close the 35-year-old hospital.
Two different places
The facility now known as King-Harbor opened in 1972, seven years after the Watts Riots focused attention on the lack of medical care in the low-income neighborhoods of South Los Angeles. It became a source of pride for the African-American community, especially after it became a teaching hospital for the nearby Drew University Medical School.
But some community leaders now say the ideologies behind creation of King-Harbor fueled its problems and may result in its ultimate demise.
"What lies at the base of it is bad racial politics," said Joe Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates Inc. and former executive director of the city's Human Relations Commission.
Staffed predominantly with African-American physicians, nurses and administrators, King-Harbor was accepted as a positive force. But no one dared to question the quality of its services for fear of being labeled racist, Hicks said.
"From the very beginning, it was viewed as the plum of the community, but what came out of it was racial protectionism that set in, where politicians said, 'We can run it, don't mess with us.'
"I think the supervisors shied away from King-Harbor because nobody wanted to be tarred as a bigot or racist," Hicks said. "Every single member of the Board of Supervisors who has put King under the microscope has implicitly or explicitly been called a racist."
Hicks, who grew up in South Los Angeles, said he's been one of only a few African-Americans to say publicly that King-Harbor should be closed for the good of the community.
"Because of racial politics, it was politically incorrect for someone like me arguing that the hospital needs to be shut down because it was killing people," he said.
Hicks and others emphasized that all public hospitals have the potential to go wrong if problems with administration or substandard care are ignored.
"For far too long, (the staff) at King-Harbor allowed a defective culture of accountability to exist there," said Jim Lott, vice president of the California Hospital Association.
"There was very little ownership of the hospital, so when you have that for terribly long, it affects them."
Impact on Olive View
In contrast, Olive View opened in 1920 as a tuberculosis sanatorium. It later became known for the first open-heart surgery in the San Fernando Valley and one of the first in Southern California.
The hospital was heavily damaged in the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake and was rebuilt about a decade later and continued as a teaching hospital affiliated with UCLA's School of Medicine.
"If you go to Olive View, the staff take a lot more ownership," Lott said. "They treat it as a community hospital, rather than a county hospital."
But Olive View Medical Center isn't without problems of its own.
Lawsuits had been filed against the hospital after the deaths in 2003 of Robin Garcia, 21, of Sun Valley, who had liver failure, and Judith Perez, 20, of Van Nuys, who suffered from an accumulation of fluid on her brain.
Olive View staffers acknowledged that while they may be perceived as the "crown jewel" of the county hospital system, there is room for improvement.
"There are no perfect facilities," said McGinley, the hospital's interim chief operating officer.
"There are always areas that need improving, and we're always trying to fix them."
While the hospital is licensed for 377 beds, it is budgeted for only 198. An average of 200 people are admitted a day, McGinley said.
Nearly 150 people a day seek treatment at the 12-bed Emergency Department, standing hours in a line that winds out the door.
Despite the wait, some who visited Olive View last week said they were treated well by attentive doctors and nurses.
"I came here four months ago with a fever, and they attended to me fast," said Roberto Carlo, a 30-year-old Sylmar resident who was waiting this time for his wife.
"I had a 104-degree fever from an infection, and I got right in," he said.
Working inside the emergency room, where patients overflow into the hallways, Dr. Jorge Diaz said people in need of emergency treatment often request to be brought to Olive View.
"It doesn't look like a decrepit hospital," said Diaz, who has worked at Olive View for a decade and oversees the emergency room. "People ask ambulance drivers if they can come here, because they don't want to go to other hospitals."
Should King Harbor close, Olive View and other hospitals in the San Fernando Valley could see some impact, said Lott of the hospital association.
Olive View is some 40 miles from King-Harbor. But when King-Harbor's trauma unit closed in 2004 and the hospital reduced the number of patients it could take from 200 to 48, Olive View handled some of the overflow.
"Whenever one hospital goes off line, the service areas get redefined," Lott said. "There is a smaller impact on hospitals in the San Fernando Valley, but there will be an impact nonetheless."
Patients are treated in the emergency room at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar earlier this month.
John Lazar/Staff Photographer
Los Angeles County Olive View-UCLA Medical Center
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jul 28, 2007|
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