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King-Harbor Hospital to be Ridley-Thomas’ top priority

Hennessy-Fiske is a Times staff writer.

Mark Ridley-Thomas vowed to reopen Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital as he was sworn in Monday as Los Angeles County’s newest supervisor.

Ridley-Thomas, a former state senator, plans to appear outside the Willowbrook facility this morning to announce details of how the county can reach a January 2010 goal to restore hospital services.

Federal regulators forced the hospital to shut down last year after it failed to meet minimum standards for patient care, and the county downsized the facility, maintaining only clinic services.

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Reopening the hospital has proved difficult for the incumbent board, and during a nearly two-hour ceremony at the county building Monday, Ridley-Thomas seemed to foresee tough negotiations ahead over hospital finances and labor agreements.

“No single member of the county Board of Supervisors will be able to reopen Martin Luther King Hospital on their own,” he said.

Supervisor Don Knabe, the board’s incoming chairman, welcomed Ridley-Thomas -- who replaces retiring Yvonne B. Burke -- and said the five incumbents are looking forward to working with him.

He is the first new supervisor to be elected in a dozen years.

“The stakes are just too high here in the county to not have shared goals and a common purpose,” Knabe said. “I know one shared goal we have, and that is to reopen Martin Luther King Hospital.”

During his tough campaign this fall against Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, Ridley-Thomas said residents made it clear that reopening King hospital was a priority.

“We’re not just talking about the Southeast, we’re talking about the entirety of the county and the safety net,” he said Sunday. “The matter is increasingly urgent because of the lack of access to care” and “the debilitative impact this has had on hospitals in the surrounding communities. They’ve had to carry the load.”

For the last year, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has been trying to broker a deal between the county and the University of California to operate the hospital.

Burke considered reopening the hospital a priority for the 2nd District in southwest L.A. County but made little progress in her final term. It remains to be seen if Ridley-Thomas can fulfill his promise to “jump-start the process.”

“The process has to move forward regardless of who the operator is,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We can ill afford a posture of wait and see. Our job is to deliver a hospital all of us can be proud of again.”

After appearing outside King-Harbor today, Ridley-Thomas will attend his first board of supervisors meeting as a member. He said he plans to introduce his proposal for reopening the hospital and ask that it be discussed next week.

His swearing-in drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 400, including a color guard from Ridley-Thomas’ alma mater, Manual Arts High School, and several choirs. USC President Steven B. Sample and Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, were among those who gave speeches.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Garrett Therolf contributed to this report.


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