County supervisors on Tuesday approved a deal to create a new Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center on the site of an aging inner-city hospital that closed in 2007 after patient deaths blamed on shoddy care.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously ratified an agreement with the University of California to reopen a hospital to serve hundreds of thousands of people in the Watts-Willowbrook area, low-income communities in the South Los Angeles region.
However, reopening the hospital "is not a matter that exclusively benefits one community," said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. "This is effectively a reinforcement, (an) undergirding of the county's safety net."
The plan is for a nonprofit, 120-bed facility to open in late 2012, followed by an emergency department the next year and an ambulatory care center in 2014.
While agreement details and costs remain to be worked out, the county is expected to cover construction costs that could run well over $300 million. The University of California, whose regents approved a "key-elements" agreement on Nov. 19, would provide the doctors and run a medical training program.
A nonprofit organization overseen by an independent board would run the hospital under a county lease.
The original county-run hospital, built after the 1965 Watts riot, was closed in 2007 after repeatedly failing federal inspections that exposed life-threatening problems.
Only a county walk-in clinic still operates there.
The hospital, known as King-Drew and later as King-Harbor, came under intense scrutiny when a woman with a perforated bowel died in May 2007 after lying in pain on the floor of the emergency room as staff ignored her.
The county made repeated efforts to improve the hospital. New management was brought in, the number of inpatient beds was reduced and the emergency room was closed.
Since the closure, local hospitals have been flooded with the estimated 50,000 patients a year who used to visit King's emergency room.