The proposed partnership between the University of California and Los Angeles County to open a new hospital in South Los Angeles moved closer to reality with the recent unanimous approval of the UC Board of Regents.
With the County Board of Supervisors' ratification, by acclamation, this week the agreement to provide urgently needed inpatient and emergency services to residents of South Los Angeles and beyond. We applaud both the Supervisors and the Regents as they understood and acted on the urgency and magnitude of the need.
Over the past decade, a dozen emergency room facilities have been closed in LA County. Since King/Drew Medical Center ceased inpatient and emergency room services, about a million South L.A. residents have been woefully underserved. As a result, private hospital emergency rooms in Southeast L.A. have been pushed to the breaking point. The strain on the county's health care safety net has been tremendous. A study by the Community Health Councils reported only .68 beds available in South L.A. per 1,000 people compared to 1.83 beds available in West L.A. and 1.23 beds available countywide. Approximately 16.6% of residents in Southeast LA stated that they have difficulty receiving medical care compared to only 10.9% of the residents in West LA and 14.7% of residents countywide.
Everyone recognizes that the old King/Drew Medical Center had its problems. But we are not talking about reviving an old hospital.
To the contrary, we are working to create a new non-profit hospital that will not only be a first rate medical institution, but a model for hospitals around the country. King-Harbor will benefit from the best expertise and technology available from the University of California's hospitals. It will draw on expertise from other institutions too.
The technology exists now to enable hospitals to exchange images and lab information, indeed all kinds of health information, in real time. MLK Hospital will hopefully be an early participant in what will be a national health information grid. Its doctors would then be able to access instantly the best available information and expertise, wherever it may reside, so as to make the right clinical decision for their patient.
A great deal of private sector faith and trust are being placed in UC, L.A. County and their non-profit partners. The Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation initiated the partnership by providing a guaranty of $100 million to the re-opening of MLK and catalyzed a unanimous vote and approval by the University of California Regents to participate in the partnership, as well as a commitment of $5 million from the California Endowment. Significant private sector involvement has been pledged and more pledges will be forthcoming.
For the county's part, upwards of $400 million will be invested in construction and start-up funds for New MLK Hospital. This is a major investment that can be leveraged to create a ripple effect of economic activity in South Los Angeles, which has suffered disproportionately from job loss and small business failure during the recession.
The new hospital will start small in terms of size and hospital beds. But the New MLK Hospital will launch large. The rebirth of MLK through the combined efforts of the public and private sectors will have the potential to become a national model for hospitals serving underserved communities throughout our country.
Let no one underestimate the task that stands before us. Whatever must be done to bring the new hospital online and to operate it effectively and successfully must and will be done right. Our primary ethical obligation must be high quality patient care. It's motto can and will be to "put the patient first." This is our collective moral imperative.
Yet the new hospital's potential as a national model pales in comparison to what it will mean to a mother with a sick child, a motorist injured in an accident or a senior citizen with a high blood pressure and chronic health problems.
By the promising and prudent actions by the private and public sectors, respectively, the message is resoundingly clear: Let the new partnership begin.
Mark Ridley-Thomas is the Supervisor for the Second District in Los Angeles County and Patrick Soon-Shiong is the Chairman of the Chan Soon-Shiong Foundation; and founder of the National Coalition for Health Integration (NCHI).