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UC regents expected to partner with L.A. County in reopening Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital

November 18, 2009 |  1:12 pm

Members of the UC Board of Regents meeting at UCLA this morning said that they were cautiously optimistic that they would vote Thursday to partner with Los Angeles County to reopen Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in Willowbrook.

Under the proposal, the county and the University of California would create a nonprofit entity to run the hospital, with the university providing physician services and medical oversight.

The agreement specifies that the hospital would have 120 beds, an emergency room, three operating rooms and no trauma center.

"All of the regents are united in the moral imperative of this," said Sherry Lansing, who chairs the board's committee on health services. "But as you can see from today, we are facing financial difficulties."

As she spoke, regents were considering a student fee hike as hundreds of students protested outside.

County officials have promised to secure a $100-million letter of credit to guarantee the $63 million a year it will cost the county to operate the 120-bed hospital, scheduled to open in 2013, according to Dr. John Stobo, UC's senior vice president of health sciences and services. The letter of credit will be good for six years, Stobo said.

That will go a long way toward addressing the regents' concerns, Stobo said.

Los Angeles pharmaceutical billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong has also offered a $100-million guaranty to underwrite the proposal, and is expected to speak at Thursday's meeting. But Stobo noted that Soon-Shiong's offer is not part of the proposal the regents will vote on.

County leaders expected to speak Thursday include Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the hospital; Supervisor Don Knabe, who chairs the Board of Supervisors; and the county's chief executive, William T Fujioka.

Earlier today, the leaders of six Southern California health foundations, including Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Catholic Healthcare West and the California Endowment, sent a letter to the regents urging them to approve the proposal.

South Los Angeles faces some of the most daunting challenges and greatest health disparities of any community in the state, said Bob Ross, president and chief executive officer of the California Endowment, who plans to speak at the meeting.

"There simply are not enough hospital beds to meet the community's need and that is unacceptable," he said. "The residents of South Los Angeles deserve better and this partnership holds the promise that they will get it."

--Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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