L.A. supervisors agree to pay $29 million in new King hospital costs

The Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in South Los Angeles closed in 2007. After a renovation, the facility is to reopen as the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles County leaders on Tuesday approved $29 million in new spending on the rebuilding of a hospital in South Los Angeles, bringing the total price tag of the long-awaited Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital to $281.4 million.

The funding will pay for “unforeseen” problems in the inpatient tower, such as bringing utilities up to seismic codes and rebuilding deteriorating sewer pipes. Some of the money could be used to fund overtime and weekend work to meet the Oct. 31 deadline to complete construction of the hospital, which is scheduled to begin accepting patients in late 2014 or early 2015.

The additional spending, approved 4-0 by the Board of Supervisors, was $3 million less than county managers had sought. Three of the four supervisors present expressed concern that having a large contingency fund would create a target for the contractors who are rebuilding the hospital and would weaken the county’s negotiating posture.


“We all play poker in our own ways. You don’t show your hold card. You just never do that,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told Department of Public Works staff members. “I’m not sure we’re driving a harder bargain.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas expressed frustration with the “quibbling” over the contingency fund, and said his colleagues were losing sight of how close they were to reopening a hospital in South Los Angeles, which has been without an emergency room and inpatient care since the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center was closed in 2007 after gross lapses in patient care.

“We’re in the weeds,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I think it’s time to move. Point blank.”

County officials have been criticized for delays in reopening the hospital in South Los Angeles, forcing residents to drive to hospitals in Long Beach, Inglewood, downtown Los Angeles and elsewhere to get emergency and inpatient care.

After the 4-0 vote, Ridley-Thomas said the outcome -- a medical complex with a focus on preventive care in addition to inpatient services -- will be the “envy” of public health officials across the nation.

“I really think it’s important to understand that this is more than a hospital,” he said. “If it takes a little more time to get more than what was anticipated, I can live with that. But it will not be second rate health care for the people of this portion of our county. It will be as good as it can possibly get. That’s why we’re taking care to build a first-rate, 21st century medical village.”



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