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A ray of hope for hospital

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Times Staff Writer

The University of California is prepared to seriously discuss reopening Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital as its sole operator, the system’s provost said Friday.

“We are willing to look at anything that will help the state and the people of South-Central Los Angeles,” Provost Wyatt “Rory” Hume said in an interview. “We’ve always been supportive of healthcare in South-Central, so it’s not a new area for us, and we’ll continue that commitment.”

He emphasized, however, that the university was proceeding with extraordinary caution and continued to prefer a scenario in which the university would play only academic and clinical roles at the hospital near Watts, while a third party acted as administrator.

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The university’s ability to take over King entirely, Hume said, could be derailed by insufficient funds to operate a hospital at which most of its patients have been uninsured. It also could be difficult for the university and the county to agree on a way to allow the hospital to operate independent of the county Board of Supervisors.

The university has been the county’s first choice to reopen the hospital since it closed in August. Federal regulators pulled funding after years of medical mistakes and personnel failings that harmed patients. In January, however, University President Robert C. Dynes said that the university was consumed with other priorities and lacked the leadership or money to reopen King.

The university’s new willingness to talk follows the failed county search for another provider willing to reopen the hospital. In an opinion piece in Wednesday’s editions of The Times, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky called the University of California “the last, best hope for reopening King-Harbor.”

Yaroslavsky offered inducements that he said he hoped would make an agreement possible, including a promise to cede the governance and day-to-day management of the hospital to the university.

He said the university also would be allowed to assume total control over staffing and would not be subject to the county’s hiring and employment rules that many blame for the failures in staff competency at the hospital.

Others in the county government said Yaroslavsky generally spoke for the county at large in the piece, including County Chief Executive William T. Fujioka and Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, whose district includes the shuttered hospital.

“This is going to be our primary focus. Everything else has been suspended. It’s the best solution. A teaching program in a public hospital creates the best model, most importantly, for the patients,” Fujioka said.

Fujioka and Burke are planning to meet with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento. The governor has not taken a position publicly on having UC help reopen the hospital.

Provost Hume said funding would be key.

“The biggest challenge is financial. Financing health care is not simple. We wouldn’t want to go into it in a way that would damage our other programs,” he said.

Yaroslavsky suggested a $1 long-term lease and 250 revenue-generating residency slots for medical students, but Hume said those proposals alone would not be financially significant, considering the hospital’s overall costs.

Yaroslavsky told The Times this week that supervisors could not cede all control because they would continue to play a budgetary role.

“Obviously to the extent that services in the hospital are deemed to be necessary, that would be negotiated with the county because we would be paying for it.”

Yaroslavsky’s proposal did not address what role, if any, county unions would play at a reopened hospital.

Hume declined to say whether the university might be willing to enter collective bargaining agreements with county unions.

“It’s not wise for me to go into that in any public way,” Hume said.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com


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