By Alec Rosenberg
|Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas (at podium), UC Regent William De La Peña and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block discuss vote to reopen Martin Luther King Jr. hospital.|
Calling it "the right thing to do," the University of California Board of Regents unanimously voted today (Nov. 19) to approve entering into a partnership agreement with Los Angeles County to create a private, nonprofit corporation that will reopen and run Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital. The hospital is expected to open in phases, beginning in late 2012.
State, county and community leaders applauded the vote, saying MLK Hospital will provide needed care to a medically underserved population. Reopening the hospital will have a "lasting effect on the quality of health care in the county of Los Angeles," Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, an ex-officio Regent, called the vote "historic." "This will be a jewel, I think, of the UC system," said state Sen. Majority Leader Dean Florez.
UC will provide physician services for a new, 120-bed hospital on the grounds of the old facility in South Los Angeles. UC and Los Angeles County will each be responsible for appointing directors to serve on the board of the new corporation that will operate the hospital.
"I think it's the right thing to do," Regents Chairman Russell Gould said.
The coordination agreement is structured so that UC will not be financially liable for the new entity that will operate MLK Hospital. Los Angeles County will provide funds needed to open the new MLK Hospital and ongoing financial support to ensure its long-term viability. UC will have no financial obligation for the facility. Los Angeles County will provide funds needed to open the new, seismically compliant MLK Hospital and ongoing financial support to ensure its long-term viability, including $50 million in startup funds, a $353.8 million capital project commitment and $63 million a year in operating funds. For the first six years after the hospital has opened, payment of Los Angeles County's operating funds shall be secured by a $100 million letter of credit obtained by the county from a major lending institution.
"The financial concerns that we had I think have been met," said Regent Sherry Lansing, chair of the board's health services committee. "This effort has been truly collaborative. We listened to each other, we heard each other and we respected each other."
"It's a proud day for the University of California," UC President Mark Yudof said. "This is what we do: public service."
MLK Hospital opened in 1972 in the wake of the 1965 Watts riots. The hospital was closed in August 2007 after a series of troubles that included having federal regulators cut off its Medicare funding. About 18 months ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles County officials approached UC to discuss reopening the hospital, resulting in talks that led to today's agreement. Schwarzenegger issued a statement praising the agreement, saying the plan addresses a significant need.
"This agreement to reopen MLK Hospital creates an innovative partnership that will serve a vital need for the people of South Los Angeles," said John D. Stobo, M.D., UC senior vice president for health sciences and services. "We look forward to working with Los Angeles County in extending UC's role as a key component in California's medical safety net."
UC operates five academic medical centers and 10 hospitals. Health care leaders across California expressed support for reopening MLK Hospital, which will be operated by a private, nonprofit corporation. Its staffing will likely involve roughly 14-20 UC-employed physicians, supplemented with community-based physicians from White Memorial and Harbor-UCLA physician groups. The nonprofit corporation will employ — or contract with — a third party other than UC or Los Angeles County for the non-physician personnel working at the hospital.
Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, pledged $5 million from his organization to begin developing public-private partnerships to create an integrated delivery system around MLK Hospital.
"The need is clearly dire. This action represents tremendous — I think unprecedented — public sector cooperation," Ross said.
Ross was part of a group of public and private sector institutions that sent a letter to UC Regents backing the MLK Hospital proposal and offering their support. Signees included Benjamin Chu, president of Kaiser Permanente Southern California; Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of Catholic Healthcare West; Eugene Grigsby, president and CEO of the National Health Foundation; Howard Kahn, CEO of the L.A. Care Health Plan; Mary Odell, president of UniHealth Foundation; and Patrick Soon-Shiong, chairman of The Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation. Soon-Shiong's foundation has pledged a $100 million underwriting guaranty to help Los Angeles County and UC reopen MLK Hospital.
MLK Hospital, which will include an emergency room and three operating rooms, will address the major health needs of the community — hypertension, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity — by emphasizing medical care and de-emphasizing surgical care. The hospital will become part of a larger clinic/outpatient-based community health care system. Also, UC will have the primary responsibility to direct and manage efforts to establish teaching activities for medical students, residents and fellows.
"This is like a phoenix rising in the heart of Los Angeles," Regent Monica Lozano said. "This can be a national model for delivery of high quality care to communities of need."
Alec Rosenberg is the health communications coordinator in the UC Office of the President's Integrated Communications group.