‘This can only go on so long.’ Patients needing routine care pack MLK emergency department

A boy and mother wearing masks while seated in a tent
Esmeralda Avendano, right, sits with her son Xavier Gomez, 9, left, inside a tent outside the emergency department at MLK Community Hospital in South Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

In the emergency department at MLK Community Hospital, masked patients lay in wheeled stretchers lining the hallways.

Others slumped in chairs where nurses attended to them. Amid the crush of people on a recent day in December, only the sickest or most severely injured got one of the 29 rooms.

The rise of flu, RSV, COVID and other winter viruses has exacerbated overcrowding that existed even before the pandemic, hospital officials said — the result of stark shortages in medical care in a low-income South Los Angeles neighborhood where most residents are Black or Latino.