The daily life of paramedics in the city of Compton California is about to get a little more interesting, with the opening of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center – a revamping of an old ghost facility with a new name, new paint and new management.
The new King hospital, smaller than its predecessor, King/Drew Medical Center, which closed its doors in 2007, started scheduling patients in June. The emergency department is expected to open within the next 45 days.
However, unlike the old hospital, this new one will not be a trauma center to treat critical injuries from gunshots and car accidents, which has been a point of contention among community members. Trauma centers cost tens of millions of dollars more, with the requirements of round-the-clock surgical teams, a helicopter pad and more,
For the veteran paramedics in the area, the new hospital churns up memories of past friendships and experiences not easily forgotten. Those memories take them back to their early years of EMS, working with nurses and doctors at an ER with the nickname, “Killer King.”
“Because of where it was and the people it served, King was always overcrowded and many times people were nearly dead when they arrived,” paramedic Mark Hollomon, recalls. “I saw those nurses and doctors do so much with so little. We medics would treat critical patients in the hallways. It was amazing.”
Located 10 minutes from Compton, the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center shuttered in 2007 following investigative reports of gross mismanagement, preventable patient deaths and other scandals involving the hospital administration, medical staff and the Department of Health Services.
The hospital had been created in the wake of the Watts Riots in 1965, with the hope that health care services would help rebuild a community riddled with gangs, violence and drugs.
Born and raised in Compton, Hollomon has spent the last 23 years as a firefighter, 18 of them as a paramedic, in his hometown where he and his crew began to build friendships with the trauma center staff members of King Drew.
Hollomon remembers those days as a time when the number of trauma victims got worse and worse, due to gang activity. King’s crowded halls began to feel like a war zone for Hollomon. He and his fellow paramedics saw the harshest wounds and sometimes performed rather creative medical care.
The opportunity to help save lives made them feel they were part of the same team, with both the doctors and nurses. That camaraderie grew even as some began to realize the hospital did not always follow the rules.
“They didn’t play by the book because there was no book for what was going on in Compton back then,” Hollomon said. “They had to make their own book, especially when you had situations like a constantly crowded ER and back-to-back trauma victims.”
The men remembered a time when several gunshot wound victims from rival gangs were brought in after a shooting in the streets. Members of the respective gangs waited in the wings inches away from each other. Hollomon recalled the doctors and nurses trying to do their job while hoping the shooting didn’t continue into the hospital. Luckily for them, it didn’t.
As the medics mourned the loss of their local hospital, they also saw an increase in travel times. The nearest hospital became 15 minutes away – not five.
The old hospital was plagued by incidents of poor care, earning it the nickname “Killer King.” In one of the most notorious cases, a woman was left writhing in pain on the floor of a waiting room for 45 minutes, as a janitor mopped around her and other staffers walked past. She subsequently died, and the county paid a $3,000,000 settlement to her family.
Jennifer Bayer, vice president for external affairs for the Hospital Association of Southern California, said nearby hospitals should not be worried that they will lose patients to the new King hospital.
“There are enough patients to go around,” she said.
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