By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Citizens like Mobley were therefore always caught between reasonable paranoia and pragmatism, between keeping the county at arm’s length and demanding that it give its all with few questions asked. And those black King/Drew doctors and other staffers who worked for the county were expected to also work apart from it, to service the Dream and an inchoate but ambitious black agenda before anything else.
Mobley admits to being involved in too many aspects of the fight at this moment, when so much hangs in the balance at King/Drew. Decisive news about the place is breaking faster and faster, building to a crescendo, decades in the making, that has finally peaked, just across the threshold of another new year. Mobley is integral to that news; I need to talk to her. “And as soon as I get free,” she reassures me, “I’ll call you back, honey. I will.”
She doesn’t. I believe she wants to call back. She can’t. She won’t get free and likely never will. I can never ask her about her part in the troubled history of King/Drew, because I am not meant to ask — because Mobley, though hardly the whole story, is an irreducible element of it; beyond her, there is no one left to ask. She knows. She is a point of truth that could doubtless untangle the complex web of truths that is King/Drew, a source of answers for all the questions I have carried about too carefully for too long: Is Mobley the community? Is the community Mobley? Are Mobley and that community as problematic as people say they are? Is it possible that the layperson most associated with the medical endeavors at King/Drew and most lauded for its achievements is also its heaviest ball and chain? And why give a rip about a place that seems pathologically incapable of getting better, like so many other things in our — excuse the word — community?
This is an exaggeration, surely. But I have spent years criticizing the problem of accountability in the black community and only rarely the people themselves; now is the time to call them out. Lillian Mobley could have given me names and faces; she might have even been courageous enough to give me her own. Mobley, however, cannot talk to me about this, or anything else. She is too compromised to speak in this story, even if I were never to mention her by name.
I deeply believe in King/Drew in its original and enduring abstract — a hospital for a People who went too long without — but I realize I know too little about its ordinary life over the last 30 years to put much spine into that conviction. At the hour of King/Drew’s greatest need, I am anxious for the details about everything — its decline, its triumphs — details that must start with the black community that, after all, willed it into existence with the force of its own misery a generation and a half ago. This is our story, flawed though it is, and Lillian Mobley knows it far better than I do. Yet with her or without her, I have to tell it. I may not be qualified to tell it, but I have no choice. The questions that I ask I will have to answer, however imperfectly, myself.
King/Drew has been in one spotlight or another for a long time, from its improbable beginnings in the late 1960s right up to the moment of its current crisis, the worst in its history. This crisis is an accumulation of several smaller ones over time that finally converged in a single year and led to recent decisions by medical-education accreditation officials to shut down two of King/Drew’s key residency programs, surgery and radiology, in June. Without residents, particularly in surgery, it is doubtful that King/Drew can continue as a full-service hospital and emergency room. Another important residency program, neonatology, was recommended for closure, and several more, out of 18 total, that are on probation may follow the same fate. County health officials shut down a patient-recovery unit where three women died last year under questionable circumstances. As an institution, King/Drew has received two consecutive ratings of unfavorable from the accrediting body, a distinction it shared this year with only 13 other U.S. hospitals that have a comparable number of residency programs. Two weeks ago, partially in response to criticism from the Satcher-Burke task force, Drew University placed its president, Dr. Charles K. Francis, on paid administrative leave.
Everybody who supports King/Drew knows that the institution is not what it should be, and they agree that this is all the more reason it must go on, preferably to greatness. Missing in this age of diffused demographics and lax, King-less leadership, however, is a consensus about exactly how King/Drew should go on — who should do what, and when. A crisis of direction that has never been taken seriously must now be suddenly, expertly solved by an increasing number of interim management teams, task forces and oversight committees that seem to materialize every week.