By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Historically, there’s always been this antagonism towards UCLA, this feeling from certain people on the Drew side that at some point [they’re] going to come in and take over,” says Dymally, who chairs the Assembly Select Committee on King/Drew, created late last year. He says the antagonism on the Drew board expanded over the years to include “anti-Drew factions, pro-Latino factions and the anti-faction faction. And who’s in charge? Nobody.” To own up to being in charge, of course, would mean taking charge of the pooling mess of sanctions and closures at King/Drew. UCLA is the entity most likely to take over residency programs at the university, if it comes to that, though it isn’t exactly leaping at the chance.
King/Drew insiders say, curiously, that the entity most in charge is the community. This is not meant as praise. Community involvement in any enterprise is a tortured thing; like democracy, it is often poetic in theory only. And community involvement in King/Drew’s management is widely regarded as a hindrance to real progress, even as it is also acknowledged as vital to King/Drew’s post-riot mandate and to the eternal drive toward self-determination that powers the Dream. Drew officials also tout their campus as an early and important model of the urban university — the “communiversity” — that forges direct ties to the surrounding neighborhood rather than iron fences to keep it out; what was once discussed as an ideal of higher education in the ’70s and ’80s is now being commonly implemented, they say, thanks in part to Drew.
But what people really mean when they talk about the problem of the King/Drew community — a term used very haphazardly when speaking of black people — is not the entirety of Watts or Willowbrook, but the Lillian Mobleys, a small handful of locally influential folks who sit on boards and advisory councils at the hospital and university, among other places. They tend to have been around since the hospital’s beginnings, have been residents of the area even longer than that and see themselves as the truest believers in the struggle to realize the Dream. Which indeed makes them veterans but doesn’t necessarily make them paragons of justice and evenhandedness.
Critics say that the community has routinely protected jobs and its own personal and political interests at the expense of what’s best for the administration of King and the university; the warrior battling the dragon of the system has become the snake devouring its own tail. “They [community people] got on the ground floor of this thing and never got off,” says a current Drew employee who asked not to be named. “It’s a bunch of old folks who always show up to protest when something happens that they don’t like. They mau-mau, they bogart. They don’t want anything to move. And the administration is simply not dealing with it.”
Even Supervisor Burke, who has been all but silent for years about the troubles at King/Drew, admitted in recent months to having bowed to grassroots pressure — against her better judgment. “Personally, I think I should have pushed for many of these people to be replaced,” Burke told the Los Angeles Timesin reference to department chairs at King hospital. “But anytime anything is done, the communityhas become totally upset.” Though Burke has adopted a tough-get-going attitude in the wake of the new crises, her comment provokes big questions of accountability — if she really knew what should have been done at King/Drew, why on earth didn’t she do it, community objections be damned? Whatever influence these community folks have, they are not county supervisors or health-department officials whose job it is to run a major hospital. It is fine for Burke to say that the Dream must live on and that closure or downgrading the hospital’s rarefied status as a Level I trauma center “is not an option.” But kowtowing to a community that’s allowed to operate as a kind of shadow government smacks of buck passing. The former King staffer who started a career there in the early ’70s says that Burke epitomizes the laissez-faire political approach that has always been a big part of the problem. “She’s a piece of work,” says the staffer. “Every month there’s this huge exposé about King/Drew, and she appears shocked and innocent about the whole thing. Why doesn’t she get a handle on things?
“Burke’s protecting her own people and their positions,” the staffer maintains, “and herself politically. Now she’s in fear of her own job, and this thing is blowing up all around her.” Many others say also that King/Drew suffers because it has no real political patron who is willing to take it firmly in hand and address problems early — say, about 10 years ago — before they mushroom into disasters. They say Burke is no Gloria Molina, her colleague on the board of supervisors who advocates aggressively for County-USC. “It’s not that other places don’t make mistakes like the ones that have happened at King/Drew,” says the staffer. “The difference is that King/Drew is under a microscope, but it has no protector. Bad things happen and it twists in the wind.”
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