This week, doctors and community members came together for a ceremony to dedicate the new Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles. But few in the crowd knew the phoenix-rising-from-the-flames story behind this gleaming new facility.
Let’s go back 50 years. In August of 1965, Watts erupted in riots before the nation’s eyes. Civil rights leaders called out the lack of affordable quality health services for the black community, and channeled their frustration through the Governor Pat Brown-created McCone Commission, which concluded that South Los Angeles lacked the infrastructure to provide accessible, quality health care.
Several years after Watts, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital and the Charles R. Drew University opened, creating two community-based health institutions – one to treat patients, and the second to train health professionals. For the first time, the poorest and most underserved residents of South Los Angeles could get better access to quality, affordable health care.
This inspiring, near-storybook tale of community health empowerment came to a crashing halt in May 2007. An emergency room patient at MLK hospital, Edith Rodriguez, died after lying in a pool of her own blood for more than 45 minutes on the floor of the waiting room. Community outrage followed. As did in-depth reporting by the LA Times. Anecdotes emerged detailing a litany of failed opportunities by county government to address quality of care issues; use of the discomforting phrase “Killer King” reared its head, a moniker as chilling as it was oxymoronic. The hospital closed.