Blacks, Latinos and the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center
John L. Mitchell:
When its doors opened seven years after the 1965 Watts riots, the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center was a symbol of pride and achievement in the largely segregated black enclaves of South L.A., galvanized by a thirst for more jobs, education and healthcare.
Today there is still a strong commitment to the troubled institution, which faces a best-case scenario of becoming a smaller hospital under the management of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. But the crisis has exposed fissures among the black leadership of South L.A., King/Drew's historical backers, highlighting a lack of cohesiveness among politicians, including the regions' three African American congresswomen.
The crisis has also raised questions about whether this leadership can deal with a hospital whose mission has evolved: Initially it was a black institution serving a largely black population; now it serves a region that is increasingly populated by Latino immigrants.
The current political leadership has been criticized for not being up to the task and for regarding King/Drew as a legacy, rather than a hospital.
"King is a monument to race-based politics, and race-based politics is dying and King is dying," said J. Eugene Grigsby, an urban planner who heads the National Health Foundation, an organization dedicated to finding innovative approaches to healthcare in underserved areas.
"We are a community looking for direction," he said. "Until we recognize that the black community can't survive unless it becomes interdependent with other communities, we will be increasingly marginalized."
Black Los Angeles experienced a renaissance during the post-civil rights 1970s, a period of economic prosperity and political accomplishments, a period when some racial barriers were overcome.
South Los Angeles was still largely segregated, but more blacks were being elected to political office, among them Tom Bradley, who was elected to his first term as mayor of Los Angeles a year after King/Drew opened. The start of the massive influx of Latino immigrants was a decade away.
King/Drew, in Willowbrook just south of Watts, was part of that black renaissance, but almost from the beginning, the hospital was beset with problems, its medical accomplishments tarnished by a pattern of neglect and incompetence that over time earned the hospital the nickname "Killer King." In 2005, the Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for a five-part series exposing conditions at the hospital, which was rated among the worst in the nation.
LA County leaders approve plan to downsize troubled hospital
Feds to King/Drew: Oh, Okay, Just ONE More Chance
FEAR OF RACISM ACCUSATIONS KEEPS HOPELESS LOS ANGELES BLACK HOSPITAL GOING
14 Out of 23 Ain't Bad: King Drew Blows It Again