July 16, 2008

The King Horror Show

Hospital employees

with criminal records

were allowed to work.

Just when we thought things couldn't get worse in the county health care system, it turns out that the county's personnel department has known for months that some former King-Harbor hospital employees had criminal records, and did nothing about it.

When King-Harbor (formerly King-Drew, also known as Killer King for its deadly patient errors) was forced to close its inpatient services last year, all 1,600 employees were fingerprinted, according to an account in the L.A. Times. A few employees refused to be fingerprinted, which made it difficult to conduct criminal background checks. That should have have raised red flags.

But red flags have been raised for years at the hospital, which was built after the Watts riots and was meant to serve one of the poorest and most underserved populations in the county. Horror stories, brought to light in a Times series, told of nurses who turned off heart monitors, personnel who administered the wrong drugs, critically ill patients who were left in emergency rooms for days, and worse.

The latest development came to light after county supervisors - who have for years expressed shock at the horrors at Killer King - ordered yet another investigation of the hospital's employees. An earlier investigation found that because of a computer glitch some problem employees, including one who was disciplined for sleeping while she was supposed to be watching heart monitors, had been assigned to other county clinics and hospitals. Those facilities apparently had no idea the former King-Harbor employees had been disciplined for critical errors. In fact, record-keeping was so haphazard at the hospital that some of the worst employees had spotless records.

Could it get any worse? Apparently it could, since county supervisors and the health department they are supposed to be supervising keep expressing shock - shock - at each new nightmare. Supervisor Yvonne Burke, in whose district King was allowed to fester, is leaving the board. Her potential successors, either Bernard Parks or Mark Ridley-Thomas, have pledged to solve the hospital's ills and eventually reopen it, possibly under UCLA supervision. Let's hope they are up to the task. It's not going to be easy, or pretty, or politically correct to clean house. But the strain on other hospitals can't continue forever. And those who are responsible to care for residents who have few other choices need to stop professing shock at each new disturbing development. Nothing about King should schock them. Even their own failures in handling this mess.

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