Los Angeles County Supervisor Candidates Discuss Solutions for Reopening King-Harbor as a Full-Service Hospital
The Los Angeles Times on Thursday published a question and answer feature with two leading candidates for Los Angeles County supervisor and included the candidates' answers about reopening Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Medical Center as a full-service hospital and improving other health care issues in the county (Los Angeles Times, 4/15). In August, Los Angeles County officials shut down the hospital, which served mostly minority and low-income patients, after it failed a critical federal inspection. Five health care organizations last fall formally submitted proposals to reopen King-Harbor (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 4/1).
Candidate and City Council member Bernard Parks said King-Harbor should be opened in stages, with the first priority being to "restore it as a quality inpatient care community hospital," and as "that is accomplished, we can then add specialty services like trauma care, specialized surgeries and specialized critical care functions." Parks said re-establishing the hospital as a teaching institution and maintaining oversight of leadership and funding is "critical." He added, "A new governance system with competence, transparency and accountability is mandatory for the credibility of the rebirth of MLK hospital."
State Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D), who is also running for the position, said in order for King-Harbor to be fully reopened successfully, "It must be managed and staffed with culturally competent and compassionate health care professionals," adding, "This is the only way to encourage public and private investment in this essential community health resource." He said that the "unconscionable level of political inattention and bureaucratic disregard for patient care and safety that caused King-Harbor to be closed in the first place" has to end in order for the hospital to be successful.
Ridley-Thomas added that ensuring accountability of the hospital leadership and encouraging residents to "play a much greater role in their own health care and the delivery of services provided to them" is also important. The hospital also "must be sensitive to the health care disparities that exist in its service delivery area," he added. Both candidates also discussed improving health care throughout the district King-Harbor serves, county funding of public hospitals and a proposal to find outside agencies to takeover outpatient clinics (Los Angeles Times, 5/15).
The "last, best hope for reopening King-Harbor is a partnership between the University of California and Los Angeles County," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece. He adds that "if the nation's largest public university system can't join with the nation's largest county to resurrect a critically needed hospital at a level of care that meets national standards, who can?"
According to Yaroslavsky, King-Harbor "is not much closer to reopening today than it was" nine months ago when it lost its federal funding and had to downsize. "Several factors have conspired to discourage private operators from taking over and reopening it," including the "economics of health care (which often deny hospitals adequate reimbursement from federal and state government, and private insurers)"; the hospital's poor reputation; the "county's arcane hospital governance"; and the high cost of providing care to the poor and underserved, Yaroslavsky says.
He continues, "Any one of these factors would be reason enough to dissuade many prospective partners; combined, they make finding one virtually impossible." But the UC partnership provides a "window of opportunity" that will not "be available ... forever," he writes, adding that local lawmakers must "summon the political will" to allow UC to run King-Harbor. "The payoff for success is great; the penalty for failure grave; and the timing urgent," he adds (Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles Times, 5/14).