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UC Regents worry about possible costs of plan for King Hospital

March 19, 2009 |  3:40 pm

University of California regents expressed a mixture of support and financial trepidation Thursday about a proposal that the university play a key role in reopening Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital near Watts in 2012.

Several regents said they wanted ironclad assurances from Los Angeles County supervisors and state officials that UC would not be held responsible for any costs or liabilities for what is expected to be a 120-bed facility with an emergency room. The hospital was shut down in August 2007 after repeated failures in patient care including some that led to deaths.

UC President Mark G. Yudof said he hoped the details could be worked out by the fall, when the regents are expected to review and vote on a final contract for the hospital plan. "I think they’d like to move forward, but there is nervousness," he said of the governing board, which was meeting at UC Riverside.

Under the plan, UC and the county would create a new nonprofit agency to run the hospital. UC is to provide physician services and medical oversight but no financial support, and UC’s name would not be part of the hospital's name, according to the plan presented to the regents Thursday.

Board of Regents Chairman Richard Blum and others said they were drawn to the idea of the university helping to deliver medical care to a low-income area in need of extra hospital beds but are wary that even a written promise from the state and county may not be enough to ensure that UC faces no costs.

They said a large reserve fund should be created and other revenue streams locked in, in addition to agreements that would allow UC to leave the hospital if things went awry.

"I think once we get committed to this, it will be very difficult and maybe almost morally irresponsible to walk away from it," Blum said. "I worry a lot about that."