Today the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to fully reopen Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital. In doing so, the board will also reopen wounds and political accusations that were temporarily forgotten when most of the medical center was shut down two years ago. Calling the Willowbrook facility a “troubled hospital” is a monumental understatement. For years the hospital, informally called King/Drew after the hospital's adjacent Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School, became an out-of-control monster devouring lives and money, and the embodiment of identity politics. Even as jaw-dropping accounts of medical incompetence, staff indifference and black-on-brown prejudice stunned readers of L.A. New Times and the L.A.Times, local politicians were loathe to pull the plug on what had once been a symbol of African American pride in South L.A.
Of course, no supervisor or any other politician in his or her right mind is claiming today's vote represents a return to the old status quo. As the Associated Press reports: “Under the plan, the county will provide more than $350 million in funds to rebuild the hospital and a master-planned health community surrounding it, while the University of California will staff the hospital and oversee its medical care. The hospital would be administered through a private, nonprofit organization with county and UC officials on its board.”
It's probably safe to say there will be far more oversight on the
day-to-day operations of the new hospital, which is badly needed in
South L.A., when it eventually opens its doors. Resurrecting King has
been the driving ambition of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas since his
election last November and he is calling for it to happen sometime in
2012. In a press release issued today, Ridley-Thomas is quoted
declaring, “Time is of the essence. This board will be
resolute in its message to the UC Regents. The ball is in the
university's court. Let's do the right thing.”
the right thing” has too often been political shorthand for “spend now,
ask questions later,” and today's vote is only the first step in what
will be a very long and complicated process to return quality health
care to South Los Angeles. If anything, the ball is going to remain
very much in the Board of Supervisors' court for some time.