By Gloria Zuurveen, Editor-in-Chief
BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: This week the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion authored by Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell that invests a total of $20 million dollars of Los Angeles County’s unallocated Measure B funding over the next four years to help support the operational needs of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital or MLKCH. The motion authorizes the county’s Department of Health Services to allocate $8 million in one-time Measure B funding to be released to MLKCH and an additional $4 million up until the fiscal year 2026-2027.
Martin Luther King Community Hospital is in Jeopardy of Closing without Additional Funding
January 26, 2024-In a shocking turn of events, the MLK Community Hospital in Watts is currently facing a severe financial crisis that threatens its very survival. Just days after the nation commemorated the pioneering work of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who fought tirelessly for civil rights and justice, this once-prominent symbol of hope and healthcare for the disadvantaged is now on life support itself. During a recent Los Angeles County Supervisor’s meeting, concerned individuals from various backgrounds took to the podium to express their grave concerns about the dire financial situation of the MLK Community Hospital. Their impassioned speeches highlighted the urgent need for financial support to prevent its imminent closure.
The history of the hospital is fraught with challenges. Established as a response to the devastating 1965 Watts riots, the MLK Community Hospital was intended to address the healthcare needs of one of Los Angeles County’s poorest neighborhoods. Beginning its journey as a lifeline for the community, it quickly gained a reputation for having skilled doctors who provided quality care—something that the locals sorely needed after having to travel considerable distances for medical attention. Despite previous efforts in the past by elected political leaders like the Congresswoman Maxine Waters and even the late Yolanda King, the daughter of Rev. Dr. King, and Rainbow PUSH leader, Rev. Jesse Jackson, to protect and preserve the hospital, it seems that history is repeating itself. Concerns about the hospital’s closure then were raised by community advocates like Mrs. Lillian Mobley, executive director, South Central Multipurpose Senior Citizen Center, Mrs. Mary Henry, and others fought to keep it operational.
Now, as reported by the Los Angeles Times on November 10, the leaders of MLK Community Hospital are once again sounding the alarm about its imminent financial collapse. The Los Angeles Times report revealed that the hospital experienced a staggering loss of over $42 million in the previous budget year, which ended in June. The funding system, including state and county government supplemental payments, has been unable to keep up with inflation and rising labor expenses. Additionally, the hospital’s reliance on federal aid during the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated its financial woes. Compounding the issue, the emergency department has witnessed a significant influx of patients, four times the initial projections, further straining the hospital’s financial resources. Moreover, Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, does not fully cover the costs of emergency services, adding further financial strain to the hospital. To meet the increased demand for services, the hospital has been compelled to hire hundreds more nurses, in adherence to mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. This resulted in exceeding the budget for temporary labor by over $20 million last year, primarily due to the employment of travel nurses. While the hospital did receive a $14 million state loan for hospitals in financial distress, the CEO, Dr. Elaine Batchlor, stressed that this funding only offers temporary relief and does not address the underlying issues plaguing the hospital. Hospital officials are now urging Los Angeles County to increase its payments to account for inflation. They are also appealing to the state government to reevaluate financial supplements and allocate additional funding for emergency department visits.
Dr. Batchlor warned that without substantial changes, the hospital will be forced to reduce services and eventually close its doors, leaving thousands of patients without access to essential medical care. The fate of the MLK Community Hospital now lies in the hands of those with the power to intervene. As the community anxiously awaits the response from local and state authorities, the clock continues to tick, and the future of this vital institution hangs in the balance.