Consultants present long list of fixes for troubled LA hospital that faces possible loss of federal funds

Tuesday, January 4th 2005, 10:43 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Turnaround specialists hired by the county to fix a problem-plagued hospital have come up with nearly 1,000 recommended changes, including fixing a ``largely dysfunctional'' personnel department.

The consultants released a preliminary report Monday that finds Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center riven by problems, including unreliable record-keeping and personnel who are poorly trained, inattentive and sometimes even missing.

Navigant Consulting suggested that it cannot fix its problems while the county Board of Supervisors is in charge and a ``separate, independent and knowledgeable board'' should be immediately appointed to oversee the hospital and shield managers from political pressure.

King/Drew is the only public hospital in South Los Angeles, a neighborhood plagued by gang violence. Despite pleas from politicians, residents and civil rights leaders, the county board of supervisors voted in November to close down its trauma center, saying it is draining money and manpower from the rest of the troubled hospital.

Among its other problems, King/Drew is facing the possible loss of nearly $200 million in federal money _ roughly half its budget _ after failing an inspection of procedures used to restrain aggressive psychiatric patients.

Federal officials are to decide by Jan. 19 whether to withhold the money _ a move that could force the county to close the entire hospital.

The consultants found one of the hospital's largest obstacles to recovery was its inability to evaluate and discipline employees. They called the human resources department ``largely dysfunctional for about seven years.'' The Navigant report called for a fresh evaluation of the competency of all staff in the psychiatry department.

A new senior leader for the human resources department also was proposed, along with a review of all workers' compensation claims. Eight percent of King/Drew's staff of nearly 2,500 has a claim on file.

Board of Supervisors member Don Knabe said ``outright firings'' would likely be necessary to correct problems identified by the consultants.

``You can't just paint a room and have everything be comfortable and have the same incompetent staff,'' he said.

Navigant, which has a one-year, $13.2 million contract to run the hospital, will release its final version of the report Feb. 1, then will work with county officials over the next month to determine how to proceed.