California Officials Tentatively Agree To Reopen King-Harbor Hospital
A tentative agreement between Los Angeles County officials, the University of California and representatives of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) would reopen Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor hospital in three years, the Los Angeles Times reports (Therolf, Los Angeles Times, 3/12). In August 2007, 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 later that year submitted proposals to reopen King-Harbor.
UC -- one of the five to submit a proposal -- had been Los Angeles County's leading candidate for the role. Because the negotiations with the other organizations had failed, UC was the "last, best hope" for reopening King-Harbor, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky had said. However, in January 2008, former UC President Robert Dynes said the university was not in a position to solely operate and reopen King-Harbor, citing funding concerns and a need to focus on other priorities (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 5/19/08).
Under the tentative agreement, King-Harbor would have an emergency department and inpatient services operated by a new not-for-profit organization that would be equally governed by UC and the county. According to the Times, finding an operator could be one of the biggest hurdles in implementing the plan.
Outpatient services, which continued after the hospital's closing, would continue to be run by the county and be subject to Civil Service rules. Civil Service rules would not apply to the new hospital, which will hire all new staff. Critics have blamed Civil Service rules for hospital officials' inability to remove ineffective doctors and staff in the past.
The agreement calls for 120 hospital beds with an average daily census of 108 patients, down from the 233 beds the hospital had before it was shut down. King-Harbor will remain a teaching hospital and the board of the new operator would determine the role of Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, which had partnered with King-Harbor for decades, the Times reports. The school is the only historically black medical school west of the Mississippi River.
The county would cover all costs, and UC would assume no financial risk but would be responsible for providing physician services and "restoring confidence in the facility's standards for patient care," according to the Times. While the plan is "silent on some crucial points," the "deal nonetheless appears to meet many of [community residents'] demands for a new hospital," the Times reports.
Schwarzenegger in a statement said, "The people of South Los Angeles deserve access to needed, quality medical services, and this proposed plan provides an important framework for addressing this community's health care needs." Yaroslavsky said, "There is no perfect structure, but we did it the county way for 30 years and it didn't work. This is a different approach."
According to the Times, "The search for a contractor to operate the hospital could be the biggest remaining stumbling block," as county officials "have searched fruitlessly for such an operator since 2007." Robert Ross, president of the California Endowment, added, "All of this hinges on finding a private operator to actually open the hospital. That's the black box. That's the biggie" (Los Angeles Times, 3/12).