Nightmare public hospital to be reborn as private hospital

You may remember the video reports of Edith Rodriguez, a 43-year-old woman seen dying in the emergency room of a hospital in Los Angeles. Well, that hospital was the Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, which was closed in 2007 after the facility failed a make or break inspection that meant the loss of $200 million in federal funds.

Now a significantly smaller hospital may be opened in its place as the Martin Luther King Jr. medical facility, which will be a private non-profit facility run jointly by the county of Los Angeles and the University of California. The original hospital at one point had as many as 400 beds and the new hospital will be downsized to 120 beds. There will be an emergency room but no trauma center.

The county will contribute $50 million annually to cover expenses and operating costs and $13.3 million a year toward the care of uninsured patients. The university will provide 14 to 20 physicians and medical oversight for the in-patient hospital with a goal of eventually providing medical residents to train there.The county officials pushing for the project hope to build up the few areas of care that tend to be lucrative, such as obstetrics, but they're facing a major problem in doing so. The customer base for the hospital is 53% Medicaid, 14% Medicare, 31% uninsured and almost no patients with insurance.

The private non-profit status may make it easier for this new partnership to survive because of the complex Medicaid rules of California that sometimes reimburse private hospitals at higher rates than public ones.

But the biggest change for this hospital will be the fact that it will be run by a seven-person board of directors. Two will be appointed by Los Angeles County officials, two by the university's president and three jointly. The hope is that the appointments will be less political and more professional. In the past the old King hospital was driven by political favors rather than finding the most qualified medical professionals.

In the past the hospital was seen by county politicians as a job placement center. It was very inefficient and had about 11.5 workers per bed at the time it was closed. The statewide average is four per bed James Lott of the Hospital Association of Southern California told the New York Times.

These types of partnerships between cities or counties and universities have worked well in other states including Arizona, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Washington. Hopefully the new hospital, which is due to open in 2013, will finally give the area of South Los Angeles the medical services the residents desperately need.

Lita Epstein has written over 25 books including the Complete Idiot's Guide to Social Security and Medicare and the Pocket Idiot's Guide to Medicare Part D.
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