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U.S. Representative Maxine Waters Announces Details of 90-Day Extension Granted to MLK Hospital by CMS

July 15, 2009
Press Release

U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (CA-35) today held a press conference to announce the details of a 90-day extension granted to Martin Luther King (MLK) Hospital by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS).  The extension will give Los Angeles County officials additional time to implement the MetroCare plan, which primarily will reduce the services provided at MLK and restructure the Hospital under the management of Harbor UCLA Medical Center.

"The 90-day extension is a sign of hope for people in the community," said Rep. Waters.  "It demonstrates that CMS has a clear understanding of exactly how important Martin Luther King Hospital is to the people of South Los Angeles.  There needs to be a health care facility in the area with the ability to provide essential services for one of Los Angeles County's most medically-underserved areas."

On September 27, 2006, three days after CMS announced that it would be revoking $200 million in federal funds from MLK Hospital, Rep. Waters collected 21 signatures from members of the California Congressional delegation on a letter requesting the 90-day extension.  The letter stated that the members, "respectfully request that you extend the effective date of termination by 90 days."  It goes on to say that, "The decision to discontinue federal payments to King/Drew is a substantially painful blow to the South Los Angeles community." 

Rep. Waters added, "I am confident that Dr. Chernoff and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors will take full advantage of this additional time and continue to move swiftly and deliberately to fine tune the MetroCare plan.  They understand the destructive impact closing MLK could have on South Los Angeles neighborhoods, and I have faith that they will use this breather to seamlessly implement a plan that will keep the doors at MLK open."

The neighborhoods served by MLK are part of the L.A. County Service Planning Area (SPA) 6—the least healthy SPA in the entire county—and home to more than 1,058,022 people who suffer disproportionately from preventable diseases, such as AIDS, asthma,  diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.  In addition to having the greatest health disparities in the county, 47.4% of the adults and almost 30% of the children in SPA 6 are uninsured.  The community depends on MLK for vital services, and closing the hospital would put millions of people at risk and not just the residents of South Los Angeles who would be forced to travel miles for medical care.  It would also impact Los Angeles residents in surrounding areas whose hospitals and medical facilities would have to absorb the overflow from a closed MLK hospital.

Faced with the reality that MLK did not meet the necessary standards during the last survey, the community has rallied behind the swift and decisive actions taken by the Board of Supervisors.  Everyone has been working tirelessly to implement the radical changes in management required by CMS to consider restoring the $200 million life line of federal funding. 

"Without question, there were issues at MLK that needed to be addressed for the sake of the South Los Angeles residents who depend on the hospital for essential medical services," Rep. Waters continued. "The community has been overwhelmingly supportive of efforts to reform MLK and to keep it open because they genuinely understand what will be lost if the hospital is closed—an option many of us are not willing to entertain.

Rep. Waters has consistently tried to remind the public that if MLK were shut down, the areas served by the hospital would be under circumstances almost identical to those which led to the establishment of the hospital more than 40 years ago.  The McComb Commission report, "Violence in the City:  An End or a Beginning? A Report by the Governor's Commission on the California Riots," published December 2, 1965 detailed those conditions and the factors that contributed to the Los Angeles-Watts riots.  It also recommended ways to alleviate the desperate conditions that fueled that explosive event.  For example, the report stated:

Statistics indicate that health conditions of the residents of south central Los Angeles are relatively poor and facilities to provide medical care are insufficient.

At the time, the Commission also reported:

The two large public hospitals, County General and Harbor General, are both distant and difficult to reach. The Commission recognizes that the motivation of patients to take advantage of the available medical facilities is an important factor in health conditions but it appears that the facilities in the area are not even sufficient to care for those who now seek medical attention."

Finally, and perhaps the part of the report most relevant to the decisions currently being made about MLK read:

We also believe that the Los Angeles County Health Department should increase the number and services of public health and preventive medical facilities in the area and that similar program improvement should be undertaken by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, the Visiting Nurse Association of Los Angeles, and other voluntary health agencies.

Finally, Rep. Waters added, "Although the community would prefer to maintain a full-service hospital that includes an operational trauma center, we have accepted the proposed reduction in services at MLK for the sake of retaining its presence, and a number of core services are the most critical issue on the table.  Please remember that this hospital symbolizes hope, opportunity and the fulfillment of a promise.  It is essential that everyone involved continue to work toward building the unity needed to retain the hospital in our community with the expectation that it eventually be restored to a fully comprehensive medical center."