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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Within days after she acknowledged widespread failure to meet national EMS standards on dispatch times, the director of the District of Columbia’s 911 center has been forced to resign, according to a city hall spokesman.
Jennifer A. Greene, who rose through the ranks of the DC police department for more than 30 years, had served as head of the Unified Communications Center for the past five years.
Greene’s tenure in the communication center was a tough act to manage. Recently one of her greatest challenges was the matter of firefighter delays in responding to a deadly Metro tunnel fire. Another incident was one in which a medic closest to a choking toddler was not dispatched to the scene. The boy later died.
During a hearing in March, Greene faced severe criticism from D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who questioned why average city dispatch times were consistently more than a minute longer than a national standard of 90 seconds.
Greene answered no, saying the dispatch center was looking at changing its internal standard to “something more realistic to shoot for.” She said, “We just haven’t made that standard, so we need to look at it; we’ve been talking about it for over a year.”
Wanda Gattison, a spokeswoman for the 911 agency, said Greene agreed to resign Sunday night. Gattison said Christopher Geldart, Director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, will head the 911 center temporarily. Greene’s salary was $185,000 a year.
The 911 center had been under scrutiny since the Metro tunnel incident on January 12. That fire killed one woman and left numerous others trapped in a train as smoke filled the underground tunnel. The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet completed the investigation, and Metro and fire officials have come under scrutiny.
Firefighters reported that they were slowed on that disaster by poor radio communications and were forced to rely on personal cellphones. There has been much controversy between Metro and the District over whether underground relays, designed to boost EMS communication signal strength, were properly tested.
Greene was in charge also when the fire department implemented a new computer tablet system, to track fire engines and ambulances and improve dispatch times by sending the closest rescue teams to emergencies. The DC fire union complained about frequent system breakdowns.
District officials acknowledged in March that the dispatch system had malfunctioned since it had been installed and that response times had fallen to their worst levels in two years. The computer system often left dispatchers blind as to whether they were sending the closest vehicles to an emergency.
That acknowledgment came after a young child – who choked on grapes in his family’s Northwest Washington home – died. A Paramedic team very close-by was not dispatched, as the computer system mistakenly sent an ambulance from much further away.
Officials said that Paramedics closest to the scene had not properly logged themselves as ‘in service’, but the fire union argued that computer tablets often lost their signal as the ambulances moved around town. This caused the $13,000,000 system to send faulty information to the dispatch center.
Here’s another look at this case:
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