Lawmakers seek state help to keep maternity ward open

By Ray Richardson

and Emilie St. John

Contributing Writers

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Local lawmakers are asking the state to approve $25 million in supplemental funds in an effort to save the maternity ward at the financially strapped Martin Luther King Community Healthcare.

The funding would require an adjustment to the state’s budget for 2024-25 and help alleviate a reported $42 million in debts for the MLK facility, a vital health line in South Los Angeles for communities facing shortages in quality medical care.

“We’re calling on my colleagues to do what is right,” Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Gardena, (said at a press conference outside the hospital June 7. “We’re urging my colleagues to help restructure this hospital’s existing funding model so that it can sustain the operations this community deserves.”

Gipson and state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Inglewood, are leading the effort to keep the MLK maternity ward open and plan to lobby state lawmakers in Sacramento to appropriate the $25 million in supplemental funding.

Without the special funding approval, MLK officials and supporters fear the maternity ward will be closed, forcing expectant mothers to seek care at distant medical centers.

“[The hospital] is at the edge of a financial cliff,” said Dr. Elaine Batchlor, chief executive officer. “We are one of the few options for our community members to get the health care they urgently need. We’re asking the governor and policy makers in Sacramento to recognize this need with funding that will help us continue our work.”

Getting the supplemental funding could be challenging. Newsom vetoed a bill in 2022 that would have set up an ongoing revenue stream for the hospital, which opened in 2015 on the site of the former King-Drew Medical Center was closed in 2007. 

Batchlor cited a faulty payment system with insurance providers and an alarming increase in patients as contributing factors to the financial problems for the hospital. The closing of 17 maternity wards at hospitals throughout Los Angeles County has also had an impact. More patients are coming to the facility for health care.

Centinela Hospital in Inglewood announced the closure of its maternity ward last November after a woman died during labor earlier in the year. The hospital referred mothers to nearby hospitals including MLK, St. Francis in Lynwood, and Providence Little Company of Mary in Torrance.

“South L.A. is facing a critical shortage of maternity care services, with 17 hospitals closing their maternity wards, leaving residents without access to essential health care,” Gipson said. “In addition to its maternity ward at risk of closure, MLK is at the brink of closure altogether without additional funding assistance. This is devastating to expecting mothers, their families, and to every resident in its service area throughout South L.A. and outward.” 

Bradford spoke of his time working at the old King-Drew Medical Center when he was in high school.

“This was my first job on the third floor in the surgical unit and I saw firsthand how crucial it is for this hospital to be open,” Bradford said.

He also spoke of touring the hospital last year with Gov. Gavin Newsom who provided additional funding for infrastructure and staffing but expressed more is needed.

“MLK Jr. Community Hospital is vital to our South LA community’s health and we must add state budget funding to keep its doors open,” Bradford added. “We often say that the state budget is a reflection of our values and now is the time to prove it.”

Batchlor said initial funding for the hospital allowed the facility to handle up to 30,000 patients annually. That number has soared to more than 120,000 per year, adding more stress to an understaffed facility.

In addition to the request for supplemental funding, Gipson said the hospital needs an additional 1,500 physicians and support staff.

“Due to lack of care in surrounding communities and the high volume of emergency services we perform, our staff and community are put at a particular risk,” Batchlor said. “We operate one of the busiest emergency departments in the state and have the worst payer mix of any independent, free-standing, general acute care hospital in the state. It’s a lethal financial combination.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to a $20 million investment in January for the hospital, but supporters strongly feel the state can and should do more.

“MLK is one of the last hospitals providing critical front-line services to our residents and yet it’s on the brink of closure,” Gipson said. “This small but mighty community hospital has and continues to show resilience and determination but now it is time for the state to step up and support MLK in ways that reflect the reality of the situation.

Supporters expressed long-reaching ramifications if the supplemental funding package is not approved.

“Transportation is a serious problem for many women who would have to travel longer distances for health care,” said Compton Mayor Emma Sharif. “MLK is the last beacon of hope. We cannot afford to let this vital resource be taken away.”

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at rayrich55@gmail.com.

Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist covering the areas of Carson, Compton, Inglewood and Willowbrook. Send tips to her at emiliesaintjohn@gmail.com.

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