New MLK hospital opens in South LA

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108180 full

People living in South Los Angeles' Willowbrook area will once again have a hospital in their midst with the opening Tuesday of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, eight years after the closure of the neighborhood's previous hospital.

The brand-new, privately-run facility will feature general medicine, surgical services, emergency care and labor and delivery. It has 93 medical/surgical beds, 20 intensive care beds and 18 obstetrical beds.

The hospital, run by the nonprofit Martin Luther King, Jr.-Los Angeles Healthcare Corporation, fills the void that was left following the 2007 closure of the county-run Martin Luther King, Jr./Drew Medical Center. That facility opened in 1972 following the Watts riots, with the goal of improving health conditions in the community.

But it faced serious problems: It earned the nickname "Killer King," in reference to reports of poor care. It failed several inspections, spurring the federal government to pull funding in 2007.

King/Drew subsequently closed, leaving South L.A. residents with limited access to care, and forcing other city hospitals to absorb new patients. 

"Services were obviously absent with the closure of the hospital and so some 50,000 patient visits on an annual basis had to be located elsewhere," said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents South LA.

In 2010, L.A. County and the University of California reached an agreement to essentially midwife a new facility. The county agreed to build and furnish the hospital, and to provide additional funding for Medi-Cal and indigent care. For its part, the UC agreed to provide staffing for the facility.

The partners subsequently appointed seven board members to the newly-formed nonprofit, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Los Angeles Healthcare Corporation, according to the new hospital's website. The Corporation was charged with operating the facility.

After some cost overruns and construction delays, the new MLK hospital is ready to open for business. Ridley-Thomas and others say the new facility will be nothing like the old one; it has all new equipment, technology, staff and administration.

"We designed this hospital from the ground up to meet the urgent health needs of our community, and we are eager to welcome them," Dr. Elaine Batchlor, the hospital's chief executive officer, said in a statement.

"We have assembled a world-class healthcare team that includes highly qualified clinical leaders and a diverse, multilingual staff," Batchlor said. The new hospital "will be a leading force in addressing the long-standing health disparities in our community."

The new hospital is located on the medical campus that once housed the King/Drew center. The campus will also include an outpatient center, a mental health urgent care center and soon, a recuperative care center, all operated by county agencies.

"It's a new day for MLK, plain and simple," Ridley-Thomas said.

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