Welcome to Martin Luther King Hospital, nicknamed Killer King...built after the 1965 riots in Watts, of the toughest neighbourhoods in Los Angeles. It has come to symbolise failure. In 2007 a patient lay here and bled to death during 45 minutes. Since then, the hospital is shutting down many of its services such as the intensive care unit and the trauma centre. These parts of the hospital are now vacant but bear signs of their former bustling activity.
After the scandal the federal government terminated funding and closed parts of the facility. The equipment remained, but the doctors all left. An exodus that Janet and other locals perceive as being deeply unjust: “ There were quality doctors here and its pathetic because where are those doctors now? They’re probably in other hospitals whereas they could have been servicing these people. What is it about these people that they shouldn’t have the same quality of care?”
In Watts, residents acknowledge the problems of their hospital. But they feel that they’re sitting on the wrong side of the divide within the healthcare system. Many here believe that management should simply have been replaced. Instead the government chose to shut vital services down. A quick and cheap solution, although a life-threatening one for the local youth according to the Director of the Parents of Watts Association: “If you don’t get to that hospital in time of an emergency you’re going to lose your life and that’s what we see happening now. We’re losing our young people especially from the gun shot wounds. By the time they get to the hospital where they now have to go, they’re already dead.”
Far from Watts, local authorities also took part in the decision to close parts of the facility. The district supervisor Yvonne Burke speaks of failures to comply rather than healthcare for the have nots: “There’s enough blame to go around for all of us. There’s blame that we didn’t go in and made sure those doctors performed their duties, and there’s blame that we didn’t fire some of the nurses who were in civil service.”
Once the pride of the neighbourhood, King Hospital now provides only a few services. But for its low income or uninsured patients it remains their only access to care. In order to remedy this healthcare crisis local authorities are still hoping to sell the facility to a private operator.