Martin Luther King Center for Public Health billed as revival

Corey Bridwell/KPCC

The Martin Luther King Public Health Center opened to great fanfare in L.A. on Oct. 7, 2011.

L.A. County officials held a ribbon cutting in South Los Angeles Friday for the new Martin Luther King Center for Public Health. Officials say it represents a revival of health care services badly needed in the area.

Perhaps in a fitting celebration of the surrounding communities, both a mariachi band and a gospel group performed.

“We’re at Phase One of construction of the new MLK medical campus. and we are delighted to welcome you here today,” said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas welcomed the crowd of community leaders and health care professionals to the outdoor event celebrating the opening of the modern concrete and glass facility. “Its completion marks the passage of a major milestone in our efforts to transform the MLK Medical center. This campus is nothing short of a center for excellence for healthcare delivery. It will be a medical home for the underserved. It will be an urban health promotion environment. Health workforce development environment research, teaching and economic development. If you support those things, you ought to let somebody know that we got it going on right here in this environment.”

The new public health center offers free vaccinations along with testing and treatment for tuberculosis or sexually transmitted diseases. LA County’s public health director Jonathan Fielding says it’s a long time coming.

“The first time in 35 years or more that we have a new public health clinic. And it’s really fitting that it’s in South LA where we have the highest burden of preventable disease. Of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, respiratory disease," he said.

Why has it been so long?

"Well, because it’s not been easy to come up with new money for capital projects. The county’s been strapped. We were fortunate to get this and get it done quickly. This was all done in 16 months," he said.

In the next 16 months or so, a revived Martin Luther King hospital is expected to open with 120 beds. An out-patient facility will complete the project. It comes four years after LA County shut down King-Drew Medical Center following long-standing allegations of mismanagement and patient neglect. The old hospital opened to great fanfare as a symbol of hope after the Watts riots in 1965. It stands as an outpatient clinic today.

Robert Ross, executive director of the California Endowment, points to some of that history in explaining the significance of today’s opening.

“This is an extraordinary event for South Los Angeles. This is a community that has historically been at wrong end of social justice and health justice and health equity for many decades," he said. "And this particular facility is going to advance prevention and public health and wellness to the community. It’s a state of the art cutting edge facility and it's just extraordinary that it's happening.”

Next week, the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on construction plans for Phase Two, the opening of the new hospital in 2013.

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