The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Los Angeles:
MLK Hospital May Close

Nov 27, 2023

Eight-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital (MLK) may run out of money to pay its bills as soon as 2024 and may be shut down. Although Los Angeles County has 160 hospitals, MLK is one of the two hospitals left in South Los Angeles, serving close to two million, mostly low-income people. Because of such a shortage of hospitals and clinics, the South Los Angeles area is labeled a “healthcare desert.”

MLK was supposed to replace King/Drew Medical Center, which closed in 2007. But the County of Los Angeles built this crucial hospital to be much smaller, about one-third the size of the medical center it replaced. It has only 131 beds. When the COVID epidemic arrived, this small hospital was suddenly overwhelmed.

Today, this hospital is still overcrowded with patients. MLK’s many patients have chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, that could be managed at a doctor’s office. But, as MLK’s chief executive, Dr. Elaine Batchlor, explained, there aren’t enough doctors in South Los Angeles who can serve these patients. So, these patients end up at MLK. Also, police departments serving areas as far away as Santa Monica, Whittier, and Huntington Beach deliver psychiatric patients to MLK, further straining the hospital’s resources.

MLK was planned to handle 25,000 emergency department visits a year. Last year, MLK responded to the needs of more than 112,000 such visits, ranking it among the busiest in the U.S. With only 29 rooms, the MLK’s emergency department has been forced to treat patients on gurneys, in chairs, corridors, tents built on its grounds, ambulance parking lots, waiting rooms, and wherever the hospital staff finds empty space.

MLK has estimated about 40% of its emergency visits could have been handled in outpatient clinics. But, there are only a few outpatient clinics. Other hospitals in Los Angeles refuse to serve these patients because they only have Medi-Cal, the California Medicaid program. For this reason, the patients reach out to MLK’s emergency room even for minor health issues.

Like any other hospital, MLK’s financial survival depends on the income it can generate from its patients and the financial aid it can get from the Federal Government and the State of California. The bulk of such government and state-sponsored financial aid was drastically cut over the years. The MLK’s patients are mostly underinsured or uninsured. The underinsured patients rely on Medi-Cal, which pays poorly for the healthcare service the patients receive. That is, poor revenue from the billing of its patients and undercut financial government aid are insufficient to sustain MLK financially, which can force this hospital to be shut down. MLK’s closure would have devastating effects on the health care of people living in South Los Angeles.

As Dr. Batchlor, explains, “MLK isn’t a hospital that’s going to generate significant profit for a health system.” In search of profits, the capitalist system that runs this health system undercuts everything. It prevents the building of proper-sized hospitals. Low-income working class people cannot afford better insurance because of their low wages. The result is insufficient healthcare for workers and those who fall into poverty.