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Another current Drew staffer added, “Over and over, the Peter Principle comes into play. Many people [here] are just doing paperwork.”
Many, but not all. This is the second tour for Douglas, a genial man with silver hair and a tweed jacket. He worked first in King/Drew personnel during the ’70s and came to the university in the early ’80s to set up the College of Allied Health, an accomplishment of which he says he is most proud. He says Drew’s vision is to be the Howard University — his former employer — of the West Coast, and go beyond.
“I’ve often thought that if we had the talent here that we had at Howard,” he says, “we could rule the world.”
He admits to having struggled with returning to King/Drew because it frankly was never easy to accomplish what he first had in mind to accomplish. “What I didn’t get initially was that this was a new place and you had to establish everything— support services, departments, everything,” says Douglas. “You had to clear your head of everything that you knew and build from there.”
This was the second tour for Charles Francis as well. The first chief of cardiology at King/Drew, from 1973 to 1977, Francis was most recently a principal investigator with the Urban Health Institute at Harlem Hospital before he “got the calling” to come back. He is quiet-spoken and assured but has an edge, an excitability that is most evident when talking about King/Drew. He says the place has been a magnet for black doctors almost by definition, and that when he first arrived, in ’73, “There were more black neurologists, cardiologists and other specialists in L.A. simply because of the presence of King/Drew.”
Francis thinks people forget the good things — the full-degree programs in the College of Allied Health, Drew’s role in building the academically successful King/Drew Medical Magnet High School within Los Angeles Unified School District, its role in building a similar magnet at an elementary school campus in Compton, that school district’s first. Some 80 percent of Drew grads go on to work in underserved and minority communities, and Drew has spun off nearly 20 community-based health and education programs, including the Saturday Science Academy for youth. Drew has steadily increased its research funding in the last three years and has added research opportunities at a time when the health gap between blacks and Latinos and the rest of the population, always wide, is growing dangerously wider. While it has been cited for not supporting enough trials and research, the university is raising funds for construction of a new life-science building for that purpose.
It’s not that Francis thought that all the encouraging stats gave him license to ignore others. “Things haven’t gone as I expected [at King/Drew], or to those of us who were here from the beginning,” he says. “That’s why I [came] back. A lot of the mission has been fulfilled, but I continue to be frustrated.”
That’s likely an understatement. Francis had plenty of detractors long before he was put on leave, beginning with Drew board president Alfred Haynes, who testified during a public hearing in September that although there was far too much ball-dropping between Drew and King hospital, the person ultimately responsible for the residency crises is the university president. This came in the wake of a controversial move last year by Arthur Fleming, King/Drew’s former longtime chief of surgery, to take on two more residents than are allowed by accreditation rules. The excess rankled accreditation officials and was widely seen as the beginning of a concerted crackdown on the surgery residency and other lingering deficiencies at King/Drew. Fleming lost his position, but strenuously maintains that he did nothing wrong and that he never received the accrediting council’s warnings; Francis claims that Fleming most certainly had. Fleming told me that he plans to fight his removal, but he didn’t tell me exactly how.
Late last year, a letter signed by several local groups but authored by no one specifically (though it implicates Lillian Mobley and a few others by praising them in the text) began circulating in protest of the intensifying censures and shutdowns. The letter is a kind of declaration titled “Back of the Bus Is Waiting,” and it denounces what it sees as the racism of county officials, interim management and other white outsiders who are determined to take the hospital out of the hands of the people — which include, by the way, King/Drew’s “wonderful Hispanic employees,” who are being as rudely treated as their black brethren. The letter mentions no political leaders by name but pointedly enthuses over “the wonderful FEMALE COUNTY SUPERVISOR OVER USC who demands the BEST.” (Gloria Molina is widely known to fight tirelessly on behalf of “Big County,” as County-USC is colloquially known; no mention is made of her colleague on the Board of Supervisors, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, whose territory includes King/Drew.)
The letter is chiefly a complaint about staffing decisions and department shutdowns, and it illustrates the necessary proactiveness and inevitable pitfalls of community involvement. The authors decry the loss of the African-American Fleming, who was removed over the summer as the surgery-residency issue heated up. They criticize Francis for criticizing Fleming in public and question his leadership. The letter maintains a righteous tone from the start, but gets explicitly religious in its conclusion, which prays for more things than one. “THE FIGHT IS NOT OVER!” it reads. “We will continue to fight the unfairness. It will be many rainy nights in Georgia before anyone is found competent enough to replace Dr. Fleming . . . GOD is on our side, and WE WILL WIN!” The final rhetorical flourish is “To God Be the Glory.” One of the groups listed as signatories at the bottom is the Christian Women for Justice, but it’s clear that the many individuals cc’d and named as community leaders — Assemblyman Herb Wesson, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Mayor Hahn, Mobley herself — are expected to share in the passion, if not the faith.