Sunday, January 29, 2012

L.A. County Hospital Food Investigation

Los Angeles County Hospital. CC: Peggy Hooper.

At lunchtime on a day in October 1935, Supervisor John Anson Ford left his Broadway Street ad agency office and headed one block north to Clifton's Brookdale at 648 S. Broadway St. He walked into the dining room and introduced himself to the owner.

Ford, who had been in office for about a year, appealed to Clifford Clinton to help. The Los Angeles County Hospital, located in Boyle Heights, was part of Ford's district. Hospital administrators had complained to the supervisor about cost overruns and the quality of the food service at the hospital. Ford asked Clifford to survey the hospital's food service to address numerous patient and staff complaints about inedible and uneaten food. Clifford agreed to lead a committee.

Supervisor John Anson Ford.
Committee members visited the hospital several times in preparing a report analyzing four areas, including facilities, costs, food, and employees. The review revealed an operation that was over-staffed with inefficient use of its facilities. Patients were served excessively starchy meals of corn pudding, cold mashed potatoes, and chunks of bread. They were also given raw apple deserts, raw cabbage salads, and under-cooked vegetables. Unseasoned food was slopped on cold plates and served by "an old man in overalls who was unshaven and discourteous," according to the report. While patients received stew, physicians and nurses received prime cuts of meat.

The committee delivered a litany of recommendations to county supervisors to reduce staff and improve customer service on April 11, 1936. Ford was grateful for a report that, when implemented, saved the county $120,000. City politicos, garbage collectors, and the Los Angeles Times refused to swallow the committee's findings.

Employees hired as patronage for their political support by former Supervisor Frank Shaw, who was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 1933, were dismissed. County garbage collectors who had been selling the uneaten food to hog farms saw their graft source dry up. The Times excoriated the report with a headline, "Restaurateur Meddles in Hospital Report."

When he asked a colleague to explain the negative reaction, he was told, "Clifford, You've stepped on somebody's toes, somebody much bigger than you realize. Just keep quiet. It'll blow over."

Clifford was the kind of man who wasn't prepared to take that advice.

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