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

November 19, 2009 | 10:34 am

King

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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