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UC regents approve partnership with L.A. County to reopen King Hospital


In a unanimous vote, the University of California Board of Regents today approved a plan to partner with Los Angeles County to reopen Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital by 2013.

The partnership is a crucial step in reviving the long-troubled facility, which shut down two years ago after repeated findings that inadequate care led to patient injuries and deaths.

"This is a proud day for the University of California," said UC President Mark G. Yudof to shouts of "thank you" from the audience. "The reopening of Martin Luther King Hospital will provide not just adequate care but the best care to the underserved."

Before the vote, Eddie Island, a retired attorney appointed to the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urged his fellow regents not to delay.

"There is no greater public good than to engage and embrace the need a community has for healthcare," Island said. “I’m going to embrace without hesitation this Martin Luther King arrangement. It’s the right thing to do.”

But many hurdles remain, including hundreds of millions of dollars in needed seismic repairs to the campus, which originally opened in 1972. The reopening of King Hospital would be considered a significant victory by community advocates, who point out that the South Los Angeles area remains severely medically underserved despite a population that suffers disproportionately from chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Under the proposal approved by the regents, the county and UC will create a nonprofit entity, overseen by a board of directors, to run the hospital. The university will provide physician services and medical oversight.

The new hospital will be considerably smaller, 120 beds instead of the 233 the facility once had. It will include an emergency room and three operating rooms but no trauma center, a sore point with some supporters. 

John Stobo, senior vice president, health sciences and services for the UC system, said the agreement  provided protections for both L.A. County and UC.

The plan calls for 14 to 20 full-time physicians and other medical professionals to staff the hospital's in-patient services, part of a larger group that will include physicians from White Memorial and Harbor UCLA. The nonprofit will also retain all hiring powers, a key concession that will make it possible to start fresh at a facility that was plagued with problem staff.

The plan to partner with L.A. County drew tough questions from some regents.

"Our reputation is going to be involved," said George Marcus of the Palo Alto-based Marcus & Millichap Co. investment firm. He expressed particular concern about the role the state will play given continuing financial struggles facing the university system.

"We are going to be in business with a potentially unreliable partner again," he said. "What is the ability for us to disengage in the event of a breach?"

Stobo responded that the partnership protected the UC system legally. But he added: "The court of public opinion is another thing."

After the vote, county Supervisor Don Knabe stood amid the crowd.

"I was chair of the [Board of Supervisors] when we voted to close MLK," Knabe said. "I can't tell you what this means to me today."

—Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Westwood

Photo: Dr. Sunao Gilbert dresses a leg injury for patient Christina Guzman at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital while Reginald McCoy Jr., right, waits for treatment for what he thinks is a broken finger.
Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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Comments () | Archives (10)

What about the trauma center?

So King will be re-opened and that is good.

However, who will pay for the health care? 60% of Americans want health care reform but it may or may not happen.

UC Regents just went into business with an outside entity and raised costs to students 32%. How many students who would have become doctors, nurses, etc just cannot take on that kind of debt not be there to work in the hospital?

When you look at the backgrounds of the "appointed" not elected UC Regents you see they are very big time business people who have interests in real estate and development. Makes you wonder if they have conflicts of interests here. Is it their own interests that drive this or the intersts of the people?

It will be a building, lots of sick people who need care, but no one to pay for it or to help cure them.

Good job. Doctors in. Insurance out.

shouldn't the UC regents be more concerned that they just raised tuition 30%?

Cool. At least the UC system is investing in its community. I just hope they can open a trauma center sometime in the future. We really do need more of them across Southern California.

Debbie, I am glad the UC system is not elected. Elected officials need to worry about public opinion. Appointed officials can do what is right for the most prestigious public school system in the world. The UC system is great. It is why I am where I am. I wish the stupid idiots in Sacramento and Washington allow the Regent to lower costs again but until that would require the idiots to stop wasting money on worthless entitlement programs, that is not going to happen. I guess the hard working students have to subsidize lazy people while in school and once they get jobs in the real world.

It looks like the UC Chancellors have a tin ear. Approving this deal to spend money training doctors at King is going to be paid for by a 32% increase in UC student tuition. How else can you read it?

UC is just bowing to political pressure to open King. I am sure behind the scene decision is made with no consideration of cost.

So this must be the reason for the 32% fee increase. Hmm.... just a thought...

MAYBE someone should be INVESTIGATING this "Coincidence"...

The only problem King ever had was the inept and corrupt administration that ran the hospital. The hospital became a "jobs" program for the corrupt Democratic politicians that had their cronies set-up in cushy jobs doing nothing and getting paid outrageous salaries. Some of these worthless "employees" have now infested UCLA-Harbor hospital.

The reopening of King is of dire importance to the local community, which remains one of the more medically under-served major metropolitan areas in the country. However, while new leadership will bolster King's future operations, it is important that we remain mindful of the fact that county hospitals across the country will continue to bare the bulk of the burden of caring for the indigent of our society and, thus, will always be vulnerable to failure.

That is, until we reach a sustainable solution for addressing the healthcare gap that exists in our two-tired healthcare system.

The federal legislation proposed looks promising - however, I can't help but feel that we are ultimately trying to dike a bursting damn with a band-aid and will not truly maximize the utility of our resources until universal, single-payer healthcare is made available to all Americans.


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