MLK hospital: “Like a Phoenix rising” *

November 19, 2009 


The University of California regents voted today to join forces with Los Angeles County to create a new hospital at the site of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Medical Center—a signal of hope, innovation and commitment rising from one of the nation’s most distressing health care failures.

The unanimous vote, which came moments after the regents’ health services committee approved the plan, creates a partnership widely hailed as a potential national model.

“This is like a Phoenix rising in the heart of South Los Angeles,” said Regent Monica Lozano.

UC President Mark Yudof called it “a proud day for the University of California….This is what we do—public service.” He pledged that the new facility would deliver “not just adequate care” but “the best medical care.”

zev-sherry-caption2Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky first advanced the idea of a County-UC partnership in a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece last year. “What a difference 18 months makes,” the supervisor said. “This is going to be a great partnership.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the hospital, summed up the feelings of many when he stated simply that the union between L.A. County and the University of California “will have a lasting effect on the quality of health care in Los Angeles.”

After years of mismanagement and patient care lapses, the hospital was dropped from the Medicare program in 2006 and was closed to in-patient services the following year.

Under the new agreement, which now goes to the Board of Supervisors for approval, the county would create a $50 million start-up fund for the hospital and pay $50 million a year to run it, with an additional $13.3 million in county funds going to support indigent care services at the facility each year. It also would provide a $20 million revolving line of credit.

In addition, the county is spending $208.5 million to rebuild the hospital facility and bring it up to seismic safety standards, and $145.3 million to build a new multi-service ambulatory care center (MACC) nearby.

For its part, the UC would provide the “broad spectrum of physician services necessary to operate the hospital” and would direct any teaching activities at the site.

A nonprofit corporation would oversee the new 120-bed hospital, with a seven-member board of directors appointed by the UC President and Los Angeles County.

The relatively small crowd inside the regent’s meeting room in Covel Commons on the UCLA campus on Thursday was sedate compared to the loud crowd of students outside protesting fee hikes. But they erupted into vigorous applause after the vote, and county officials in attendance embraced their UC counterparts.

“Now the real work begins,” L.A. County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka said, noting that changes to the building schedule should allow completion of the capital project by the end of 2012. “The hope is to get this done in a three-year period.”

For many in the community who’ve followed the MLK hospital saga over the years, the UC’s involvement was critical—a “brilliant stroke,” in the words of Barbara Siegel of Neighborhood Legal Services. “It instills the confidence back into the hospital.”

“It will carry the imprimatur of quality that the UC is known for,” added Dr. Hector Flores, chair of family medicine at White Memorial Medical Center, who has been a close observer of MLK since he was appointed chair of the county’s Hospital Advisory Board in 2004.

Flores also noted that the county’s commitment to funding the new hospital is just as important—symbolically and practically—as the UC’s commitment to providing medical expertise.

“Knowing that there’s going to be a facility with safety net support from the county is important,” Flores said. “When you have a new facility in an underserved community, you worry that it’s going to end up closing.”

*Updated (12/1):

The Board of Supervisors today directed the county’s chief executive officer to hammer out specifics of a coordination agreement with the University of California for the new MLK hospital.

The supervisors also authorized CEO William Fujioka to create a project management team to oversee key next steps, including forming the non-profit and helping with its start-up; overseeing and coordinating the building process; and working out agreements on matters including indigent care.

“This is the beginning of a substantial effort,” Fujioka told the board.

The motion, by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, requires the CEO to provide progress reports to the board at least every three months on project milestones and anticipated costs. An amendment by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich directed Fujioka to provide “actual expenditures, both anticipated and unanticipated” on the project, as well as projected budgets for construction and for the cost of putting into place the organization that will run the new hospital.

At the meeting, Fujioka introduced members of the “King Team”—a cross-departmental group of 14 that has helped push the project to this point. Among those saluting their work was Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who hailed the recent regents’ vote as an “important milestone” and said, “I just want to congratulate everyone who’s been a part of this.”

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