California's public university system on Thursday agreed to fully reopen a troubled South Los Angeles hospital that was partially closed in 2007 after deadly lapses in care.
The Regents of the University of California unanimously approved the plan to provide doctors and residents for Martin Luther King Jr. hospital. Los Angeles County will foot the $353 million bill to expand and fully reopen the facility in 2012.
The reopening will restore emergency and inpatient services to the estimated 600,000 people in the area. The hospital continued offering outpatient services after the partial closure.
Under the plan, a private nonprofit group would hold the hospital's license, have its own independent governing board and operate the facility under a lease agreement with the county.
The hospital, formerly known as King-Harbor and, before that, King-Drew, was built in the wake of the 1965 Watts riots to serve one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The area is plagued by broad inequities in care for its mostly low-income, minority population.
In recent years, state and federal inspectors repeatedly discovered failures in care at the facility. Two years ago, a woman with a perforated bowel was ignored and died after writhing on a waiting room floor for nearly an hour.
The county tried to improve patient care, disciplining workers, reorganizing management, closing the trauma unit and reducing the number of inpatient beds — all without success.
Since the closure, local hospitals have been flooded with the estimated 50,000 patients a year who used to visit King's emergency room, making more acute an existing shortage in emergency care in south Los Angeles.
Before the emergency room closed, the hospital frequently received victims of shootings and stabbings — wounds that can be deadly if immediate treatment isn't available.
The university system already runs former county hospitals at its Irvine, San Diego and Davis campuses. The University of California Los Angeles is responsible for academic oversight of residency programs at two county hospitals, Harbor-UCLA and Olive View-UCLA. At San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center, all the physicians are members of the UCSF faculty.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the decision to reopen the hospital, saying it allows critical medical services that will address "significant need for the people of South Los Angeles."
Outside King's one-time emergency room Thursday, Compton resident Samaria Manzanares, 52, said she was relieved to hear the hospital would expand services.
"Health isn't for rich people only," said Manzanares. In Compton, Watts and the surrounding areas, she said, "most people are poor, and we have to help not only Latinos, but the other immigrants and workers to be strong."