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L.A. County supervisors OK agreement to reopen King hospital

December 1, 2009 |  1:32 pm

In the latest step toward creating a new Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital, Los Angeles County supervisors today unanimously approved an agreement to partner with the UC Board of Regents to reopen the hospital by 2013.

“This is going to be a good partnership for them and, more importantly, for the clients we serve,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Regents voted Nov. 19 to approve the agreement and provide 14 to 20 full-time physicians in addition to medical oversight for the proposed inpatient hospital.

The hospital will be overseen by a new nonprofit agency governed by a seven-member board of directors --  two appointed by the UC president, two by L.A. County officials and three jointly. The directors, whom officials hope to name within a year, must have at least 10 years of experience in healthcare. The nonprofit will retain all hiring powers, a key concession that will make it possible to start fresh without the county requiring that past King employees retain their jobs.

The nonprofit's board could decide to operate the hospital or to hire another company such as Catholic Health Care West, which has expressed interest in the past.

The agreement with the University of California system is a crucial step in reviving the long-troubled facility, which shut down two years ago after repeated findings that inadequate care had led to patient injuries and deaths. When supervisors shut down the Willowbrook hospital — which was on the verge of losing $200 million in annual federal funding — they promised to reopen the facility by this year.

“This is not a matter that exclusively benefits one community,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes King. “This is effectively a reinforcement and an undergirding of the county’s safety net.”

The hospital, built in 1972, will be considerably smaller under the latest plan: 120 beds instead of 233, with an emergency room and three operating rooms. Plans call for a new outpatient clinic and substantial interior construction at the existing tower, at a cost of more than $350 million. Construction and permitting, which were initially delayed, have been expedited in recent weeks, and construction is now expected to be completed in December 2012.

This morning, supervisors ordered the county’s chief executive officer, William T Fujioka, to report back within a month on how much it will cost to form a project team to create the hospital nonprofit and associated financial and legal agreements.

Fujioka said his staff has consulted with other agencies about how to assemble the hospital team, but that it was too soon to say how many staff members will be needed. Supervisor Michael Antonovich requested that the report include a detailed budget for the hospital project, including demolition costs.

Ridley-Thomas said he plans to hold a public meeting to discuss the agreement at the hospital auditorium at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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