Let’s keep our promise to South L.A.
by Elaine Batchlor, MD, MPH, Special to the Los Angeles Sentinel
There are certain things you just don’t do.
You don’t run with scissors. You don’t stick your finger in a light socket. And you don’t cut funding for a hospital doing a great job serving one of the sickest communities in California.
Yet soon, state lawmakers may vote to do precisely that, forced into a corner for lack of federal support.
The results will be devastating for Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH), which serves a safety-net population of over 1 million highly-vulnerable people in South Los Angeles.
MLKCH has been a shining success story. It has repeatedly received an “A” grade for patient safety from the prestigious Leapfrog group. Its patient satisfaction scores rank in the top 10% of hospitals nationwide. Its all-digital, state-of-the-art systems puts it among the top 6% of hospitals nationwide for technological excellence. Its compassionate care and excellent results have garnered headlines nationwide and been a source of pride for our community.
That could end soon.
Currently lawmakers are considering a proposal by the Governor to revise the State Budget. Part of that revision involves stripping MLKCH of supplemental funding that enables it to provide high-quality care—funding established as legislation in 2010, key to making the dream of quality health care for an underserved community a reality.
Those cuts may be reversed if federal funding comes through. MLKCH patients are 80% Medi-Cal and uninsured. Without that, the scope of services will be dramatically reduced. The quality the hospital is known for throughout the state and nation will diminish.
We are not naive. We know Gov. Newsom and California legislators face terrible choices to keep our state going during this economically perilous time. And we know that the federal government is stalling on a relief package to support state governments. It is critical that we assist the Governor and our state lawmakers in advocating for federal support for California and other states.
Both federal and state lawmakers need to ask themselves two questions.
The first is: How vulnerable is the population that will be affected?
By any measure, South Los Angeles is one of the most vulnerable communities in California—and the nation.
Decades of neglect and lack of access to care have produced a population that is sicker than most on almost every measure. The poverty rate in South L.A. is double the rest of California. There is a huge burden of chronic disease – diabetes prevalence is more than three times higher than the state average. Life expectancy is 10 years lower.
Much of this has to do with decades of economic and social neglect. Underinvestment has taken its toll. Medi-Cal, the public insurance for the poor, pays doctors such a low rate that few can afford to work in South L.A. Not surprisingly, the gap in physicians is 1,200. It could now grow even larger.
A lack of doctors to treat our community means poor outcomes, advanced chronic conditions and preventable disability and death. MLKCH was created to change these outcomes, by bringing high-quality doctors and healthcare professionals into our community through a unique funding arrangement with the state. We also opened clinics to offer the kind of primary and specialist care that can prevent and manage the chronic conditions that plague and undermine our patients. If this funding arrangement goes, so too will the doctors that this community desperately needs.
Here’s the second question lawmakers should ask: Is this an effective way to help the most vulnerable?
There’s no point, after all, in funding things that don’t work. But MLKCH does work. Further, it is the embodiment of a promise: that South L.A. would never again be left without a hospital and without access to the kind of care it needs and deserves for all its communities. Behind that promise was the acknowledgment that something was owed to a place that had survived riots, racism, and the repeated failure of the institutions that were supposed to protect them.
It’s rare when a clear need and an effective remedy exist together. It does in South L.A., right now. If you care about South L.A., find your federal Congress person and ask them to support federal legislation to help the states. Also, find your assembly member and state senator and tell them to support our hospital. Contact Gov. Newsom and urge him to protect the health of South Los Angeles: https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/
It’s not too late. If we raise our voices now in a clear and urgent protest, we can help our leaders keep the promise they made when our hospital opened just five short years ago. We can continue the process of healing not just patients, but an entire community.