Los Angeles

New Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital Opens in Willowbrook

The new 131 bed facility will serve more than 1 million residents.

A hospital named after Martin Luther King Jr. opened Tuesday in Willowbrook, providing 131 beds and health care to a community that hasn't had a full-service medical facility since severe lapses in medical care closed the original hospital in 2007.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital started treating patients Tuesday, after being approved by the state Department of Public Health and accredited from The Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits hospital across the United States.

"We designed this hospital from the ground up to meet the urgent health needs of our community, and we are eager to welcome them," said Dr. Elaine Batchlor, the hospital CEO, in a statement. "Working with our staff, physicians and partners at the County of Los Angeles and the University of California health care system, we are bringing compassionate, collaborative, quality care to South Los Angeles.''

The old Martin Luther King King-Drew Medical Center, which was opened in 1972 and closed after years of lapses in medical care. The Los Angeles Times reported that ongoing lapses in patient care caused the hospital to be nicknamed "Killer King," compared to the symbol of hope it once was to the community after the Watts riots in 1965.

It closed in 2007 after failing its final check and losing $200 million in annual federal funding, the LA Times reported.

The old hospital was run by the county, but this hospital will be managed by a governing authority overseen by business, health care and law experts focused on the facility. The $210 million hospital will be formally dedicated on Aug. 7.

The hospital is part of a medical campus with outpatient and urgent care facilities, which have been operating in place of the old King-Drew Medical Center, according to the statement. The new hospital, which will serve more than 1 million people, has 93 medical/surgical beds, 18 obstetric beds and 20 intensive care beds.

Staff includes six physician groups, and the hospital will offer general and emergency medical services, along with surgical, labor and delivery services.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political commentator who has written op-eds about the issues surrounding the hospital around the time it closed, said he has high hopes for the new hospital.

"The big question from the past is 'can the residents we talk about, generally poor, underserved African Americans and Hispanics ... can they get the same quality health care, medical treatment and service as residents on the Westside of Los Angeles?'" Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson added that the three areas he wanted to see improvement in are preventive health care, especially for diabetes, treatment for trauma and staffing.

"We want to make sure King Hospital is the best, most efficient, staffed by the best trained, medically trained individuals that can be provided," Hutchinson said. "If that is in fact the case, and we have assurance that it is, then King Hospital has the opportunity to be an absolutely stellar model for providing quality health care for not only for Los Angeles but for the nation."

Carol Mitchell will no longer have to travel 15 miles in a wheelchair to see a doctor.

"I live right across the street," she said. "This is gonna be great!"

Ted Chen contributed to this report.

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