FROM Mark Ridley-Thomas
Unifying Health Services in a County Divided Los Angeles County provides health services to hundreds of thousands of people. The annual cost is $8 billion. Some years ago, mental health, public health and medical services were divided into three separate departments. Now, the Board of Supervisors has voted unanimously to bring them back together again. We speak with proponents and opponents of the change.
Martin Luther King Hospital Reopens King/Drew Medical Center was hailed as a civil rights victory for South Los Angeles when it opened in 1972. But over the years, its standard of care declined so badly it came to be known as "Killer King." Today, it re-opened as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital . Exterior view of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital Interior view of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital Hospital's state-of-the-art facilities Hospital CEO Dr. Elaine Batchlor Dr. Oscar Casillas Photos by Saul Gonzalez
LA's New Sheriff and Civilian Oversight Corruption within the ranks and abuse of inmates in County jails led Lee Baca to resign as Sheriff, and the Board of Supervisors to create an Inspector General. With two new Supervisors, there now may be enough votes for a commission to provide civilian oversight. But a lot will depend on the newly elected Sheriff, Jim McDonnell.
Who’s Going to Protect the Mentally Ill in County Jails? Los Angeles County is widely known for the biggest mental institution in the United States. But it’s not a hospital… it’s the County jail. Inmates are held in squalid conditions, neglected by the Department of Mental Health and often abused by Sheriff’s deputies. After monitoring the facility for 12 years, the federal Department of Justice is taking remedial action.
The Feds Tell LA County Enough Is Enough After the so-called Rampart Scandal revealed widespread corruption in the LAPD, reforms were achieved under a federal consent decree entered into by the City of Los Angeles in the year 2000. It took 12 years before federal supervision ended. After 17 years of promises to improve, the US Justice Department says LA County jails are still denying the constitutional rights of mentally ill inmates. A scathing report says deficiencies include deplorable environmental conditions and inadequate — sometimes abusive — treatment. It contends some of 15 suicides in the past 30 months might have been prevented. Now it wants a court-enforceable "consent decree" is needed to make any progress. Last month, the Board of Supervisors voted to build a new jail for a cost of $2 billion — but that won't be completed for ten years.
Child Protection: "A State of Emergency" For decades, there have been horror stories about kids under the supervision of LA County. In 1996, 2008 and 2012, child protection services have been criticized and supposedly upgraded, but many of the 36,000 kids under County jurisdiction are still “unseen, unheard and unsafe.” That’s the conclusion of the latest blue-ribbon commission, appointed last year when 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez was brutally killed after six visits by social workers, who failed to remove him from the custody of his mother and her boyfriend. They’re both facing charges of 1st degree murder. Next Tuesday, the commission will make a report to the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Responds to Home Improvement Questions The Los Angeles City Building and Safety Department is investigating whether improvements at the home of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas were made without a required permit. This after the LA Times reported that County workers spent a week and $10,000 installing an alarm system in a garage that had been converted into an office. The Supervisor refused to talk with Times reporters about suggestions that the project went beyond what's allowed at public expense.
How Safe Is the Sheriff of LA County? Next year, Lee Baca will be running for a fifth term as Sheriff of Los Angeles County. But last year, a blue ribbon commission blamed Baca's mismanagement for jailhouse brutality, which was at the heart of federal criminal charges filed yesterday against 18 of Baca's deputies. The US Attorney said abuse and corruption have been "institutionalized" in the Sheriff's department, a charge that Baca denies. "The exception of force incidents (14 or 15 people) under an indictment relative to jail activity is not an institutional number." Gloria Molina says the Board can't fire Baca, but voters can, and she's called on him to retire. But he has his supporters, too.
Next Steps after Jail Violence Report After a long investigation, detailed in a 200-page report , the prestigious Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence blamed continued jailhouse brutality on LA County Sheriff Lee Baca. It did not call for his resignation, but said he's running out of time to fix problems that he has allowed to fester for many years. One of its 63 recommendations called for a new, independent oversight office like the Inspector General of the LAPD. Supervisor Mark Ridley- Thomas says he'll ask county executives to investigate that possibility, starting tomorrow.
The Right to Speak to Elected Officials Last month, it was Zev Yaroslavsky's turn to chair the meetings of LA County's Board of Supervisors. He set off a firestorm by proposing to reduce the available time set aside for public comment. Reaction was fierce. But Board members complain that so-called "gadflies" often dominate meetings. What about people who want to bring up real issues?
LA County's Snake-Pits for Children For more than a decade, kids in LA County's 14 camps for juvenile offenders have committed suicide, died from untreated illnesses, been jumped into gangs and held in solitary confinement without mental health treatment. Three years ago, federal monitors demanded 41 reforms to prevent child abuse, required staff to work a 40-hour week, not to drink on the job and to effectively rehabilitate the young people in their custody. On Monday the Probation Department missed the deadline to put those reforms into effect. Department Chief Don Blevins has been forced out after only a year on the job and a replacement will take his place in December.
LA Supervisors and Latino Voting Rights After a long and passionate hearing last night, LA County Supervisors rejected a move to radically redraw their district boundaries by a vote of four to one. Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas wanted to create a new, Latino-majority district, by drastically changing districts now held by Zev Yaroslavsky or Don Knabe respectively. Yaroslavsky and Knabe opposed both plans, along with Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe. But four votes were required, and Ridley-Thomas finally joined them to produce a majority for a plan by Knabe, which pretty much maintains the status quo. We hear from Ridley-Thomas, Knabe and others. (Supervisor Yaroslavsky declined our invitation to participate in this discussion.)
Will LA County Government Ever Make Sense? Los Angeles County government was established more than 120 years ago, with five co-equal supervisors to both make the laws and carry them out. That was long before it became the largest local government in the country, including a collection of gigantic bureaucracies with no single authority to coordinate management. Efforts to establish a county mayor have gone nowhere, but four years ago the board established an appointed county executive to oversee all the departments. William Fujioka was hired and given administrative powers. Yesterday, the supervisors voted three-to-two to take back control of two troubled departments. We talk with supervisors on both sides
NFL Proposal May Need County Approval Bringing the National Football League back to Los Angeles has been an effort full of twists, turns and surprises. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas pushed the idea as a state legislator. Now, the LA Times reports that AEG’s proposal to replace part of the Convention Center with a football stadium might require the County to be involved.
Latest Crisis at Department of Children and Family Services The Los Angeles Times reports that Trish Ploehn, LA County’s Director of Children and Family Services , is likely to lose her job, probably to be reassigned. This comes after months of horror stories, including some involving children who’ve suffered abuse and even died while under the radar of Ploehn’s department.
Child Welfare Records: The Latest LA Confidential Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said yesterday, " The obsession with leaks … exceeds the obsession with child deaths." He was the lone dissenter in a 4-to-1 vote to investigate what was called the "inappropriate disclosure of confidential child welfare information." At issue is a series in the LA Times on the deaths of children in families that are supposed to be under the scrutiny of the County's child welfare officials. Dissenter Zev Yaroslavsky said after the vote, "all the energy that is spent on that is energy that is not spent on trying to figure out what's going wrong in the Department of Children and Family Services." We hear from a Times reporter , Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who voted for the investigation, and an advocate of open government.
GOP 'Nukes' the Senate filibuster on SCOTUS nominees Senate Democrats today blocked Judge Neil Gorsuch's appointment to the US Supreme Court… but just for the moment. The Republican majority has changed the rules to force a likely confirmation as soon as tomorrow.
"Tough on crime" rhetoric sees a revival at Sessions' DOJ The pendulum swings between treatment-focused approaches to drug abuse and tough law enforcement. Now, after years of Obama-era "reforms," President Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions wants local police freed from federal restrictions to fight another "war on drugs."
After Syria strike a new Trump doctrine emerges The President who promised an end to entanglements in the Middle East and snuggled up to Vladimir Putin has now outraged Russia with surprise missile attacks on Syria. That's raised questions about who's running the White House? We hear a variety of answers.
Mixed Messages from US diplomats on the new hard line on Syria Since President Trump's surprise retaliation against Syria's use of chemical weapons, Bashar al-Assad has used the same airport to launch conventional attacks on his own people. It's not clear what the US, its allies — or Vladimir Putin's Russia -- plan to do now.