A new King hospital in South LA

Graphic by Fei Yu/Neon Tommy

Graphic by Fei Yu/Neon Tommy

Following multiple incidents of malpractice, fraud and preventable patient deaths exposed by the Los Angeles Times‘ Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage, the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in South L.A.’s Willowbrook neighborhood closed its doors for good in 2007.

King/Drew, infamously known as “Killer King,” did not start out bad. It was founded in the wake of the Watts Riots, representing hope, health, and rejuvenation in a city that was rebounding from violence and death. It represented power for African Americans. It opened with the promise to be the best hospital in America.

As time went on, the hospital fell victim to negligence and systemic administrative failure.

Now, after eight years, nearly 1.2 million residents in the surrounding area will finally gain access emergency health care once again, with the arrival of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in May 2015. The Outpatient Center opened to much fanfare on May 28. [Read more…]

School Board vote on Tuesday, South L.A. pollution near LAX + new Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center

School board members | www.laschoolboard.org

LAUSD school board members | www.laschoolboard.org

LA Times: On Tuesday voters will choose the new school board member representing a vast swath of South L.A. The winner will replace Margueritte LaMotte.

LA Times: The California Housing Partnership Corp. has released a report calling for 500,000 additional housing units for L.A. County’s poorest residents.

Long Beach Press Telegram: Residents in South L.A. and other areas east of the Los Angeles International Airport could be inhaling hazardous levels of fine particulates that could lead to health issues such as inflammation, blocked arteries, asthma and heart conditions.

KPCC: The new Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center had its grand opening this week and will be operating by mid-June. It’s one of several new buildings and services replacing the troubled King/Drew Medical Center.

Los Angeles Wave [OPINION]: The L.A. County Office of Education could be taking steps to close the Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists.

CBSLA: The students at Maya Angelou Community High School voted to name their campus after this literary legend two years ago, and now pay tribute to her legacy.

Global Post: Dr Dre is on his way to becoming hip hop’s richest man, says Forbes. After selling Beats Electronics to Apple, his net worth is expected to shoot up from about $550 million to between $700 million and $800 million.

USC News: Students from South L.A.’s Augustus Hawkins high school visited USC for a day of math-based games led by USC mathematics professors.

Best Start L.A.: Construction of a new park is underway at Avalon and Gage in South L.A. It will measure about a third of an acre.

PR Web [Press Release]: The Special Needs Network gala raised half of its funds for Joe Patton Academy Camp, which it calls “the only free summer inclusion camp in South Los Angeles for kids with autism and related disabilities and their siblings, benefiting more than 300 local children.”

New MLK Health Center opens in Willowbrook

imageMembers of the group Mariachis Ellas Son provided music and a festive spirit to the grand opening of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health.

Hundreds of community leaders and health advocates from Compton, Inglewood, Watts and Lynwood gathered at the grand opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Public Health in Willowbrook on Friday morning.

The new health center represents part of the gradual re-opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors elected to shut down the hospital, formerly known as the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, in August 2007 due to its poor record of patient care and several failed federal health inspections.

Despite the dark past of the medical center, the mood this morning was decidedly sunny and forward-looking. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas took on the tone of a preacher–“Somebody say ‘Phase one!’”

“Phase one!” the crowd shouted back.

Referring to the first the three phases for the federally funded medical complex, the health center officially opened today addresses three major needs of the South LA community: immunizations for children, testing and treatment for tuberculosis, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

The MLK center has been seeing patients in September on a walk-in basis and most services are available for free or at a very low cost.

imageThe public health center also puts an emphasis on healthy living and prevention of chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes.

There’s a community kitchen that offers lessons on healthy cooking and a fitness garden with walking trails and installations for doing exercises like modified pushups.

Ridley-Thomas acknowledged the center’s bumpy past, reflecting on how the hospital was hailed as a national success when it opened in 1972 and the local heartbreak that came with its closure four years ago.

“This new public health center represents a covenant with the community, a fulfillment of the promise to rebuild the medical center,” he said.

Phase two of the project includes plans to reopen a smaller hospital under a partnership between L.A. County and the University of California, as a nonprofit organization governed by an independent board of directors. Ridley-Thomas said he hopes for this phase to be done by the first quarter of 2013.

Before stepping down from the podium, Ridley-Thomas thanked the Obama administration for the health center, which was funded by a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Herb Schultz, the regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the new health center showed that South LA can be a leader in a national movement to “reduce and eliminate racial and ethnic disparity in healthcare.” He also pointed out that the center is expected to bring 5,000 jobs to the community.

One of those jobs belongs to Laura Gazdziak, a community liaison and public health nurse who works in the new health center. Giving a tour of the energy efficient, LEED certified building, Gazdziak smiled. “Everyone’s in a happier mood working here,” she said.

imageThe lobby of the building is filled with natural light and original artwork by Cliff Garten. Waiting rooms are clean and feature bright colors. A computer in every exam room will help keep digital records on all the 17,000 patients the center expects to serve this year.

Stephanie Burton, a clinic nurse who works in the tuberculosis testing and care center said patients start to arrive around 7:30 in the morning to register, and appointments begin at 8:00 a.m. She encouraged people wanting to visit the clinic to arrive as early as they can to avoid waiting too long.

On average, nurses see 15 patients per session, Burton said. There are two sessions in a day – one in the morning, and one after lunch. On Wednesdays, the clinic stays open later, offering appointment times into the evening. The tuberculosis unit also employs seven community workers who take medication directly to patients’ homes—no small job when there are over one million residents in MLK’s service area.

Back outside, Gazdziak said the new building has made a direct impact on the surrounding community. “It’s amazing how much safer people feel when things are clean and well lit.”

Still, she said, the absence of a high-volume emergency room in the area continues to be problematic to those who need serious care right away.

“This new center is wonderful. It does so much,” Gazdziak said. “But every night, I pray for more. It’s needed.”