The Spark

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

Closure of King/Drew trauma center:
Another step in the dismantling of the public health system in Los Angeles

Nov 22, 2004

On November 15, over 1000 people rallied in Los Angeles to protest the planned closure of the King/Drew trauma center near Watts. The protest reflected people's outrage at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who were holding a public hearing that day, supposedly to hear the community's viewpoint about the closure.

In fact, the supervisors have already started closing the King/Drew trauma center. Since October 16, the center has been closed to ambulances 81% of the time, causing critically injured patients to be sent to other hospitals. County officials say this is due to a severe nurse shortage at King/Drew. But this argument is far from convincing. In the 21 months before October, the center had diverted ambulance patients only four% of the time, and those diversions were mostly because the trauma bays were full – not because of any nurse shortage.

At the same time, the county supervisors have agreed with a private hospital, California Hospital Medical Center, to open a trauma center. The supervisors say that this new center will help make up for the lost trauma care capacity at King/Drew.

This is a shallow argument, to say the least. California Hospital is 10 miles away from King/Drew. Since trauma centers treat victims of accidents and violence for whom every minute can literally decide life or death, these additional miles mean that more people will die. Moreover, supervisors admit that California Hospital can absorb only about 1,200 of the 2,100 severely injured patients that King/Drew was treating every year.

Why the closure then? The problem is certainly not a lack of money. For example, the supervisors have guaranteed California Hospital 2.9 million dollars through June, just to cover the costs of treating uninsured patients. And they have awarded a private company, Navigant Consulting, 13.2 million dollars for "restructuring" King/Drew – which is a euphemism for cutting jobs.

The aim of this closure is to turn even more of the public medical system over to private enterprise, which will use it not to improve the population's health but big corporations' profits.