LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved up to $50 million in funding for a new Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital, despite rumblings of dissatisfaction from members about their relationship with the independent nonprofit.
The $50 million covers five years of startup funding, with $10 million to be released immediately.
In July, the board finalized an agreement with the University of California Regents, which set out their respective roles in opening the private, nonprofit hospital in Willowbrook.
The county agreed to fund construction of the 120-bed medical center and new outpatient clinic, totaling more than $350 million, plus startup and operating costs, including subsidizing care for the indigent uninsured.
A seven-member hospital board was appointed in August.
The idea is replace the old county-run Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center, which was eventually closed after a years of failing federal inspections and medical personnel making deadly mistakes.
The hospital board is now starting to hire staff, find an operator for the hospital and begin the process of ordering equipment. The hospital is expected to be completed in early 2013.
County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka asked the supervisors to release the first of the five annual payments of $10 million in startup funding called for under the agreement with the UC system.
Supervisor Gloria Molina initially balked at releasing the funds.
“What are we buying for $10 million?” she asked.
Fujioka said $8.5 million would be used for equipment that isn’t part of the hospital’s capital budget, like beds, carts and IV poles, and the balance for consulting services, supplies and the costs of hiring staff. He noted that the the county already had the right to receive an annual accounting and to audit expenditures.
But Molina said she’d like to see a budget in advance, though she took care to add, “I’m not questioning their integrity.”
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the hospital, objected, saying he was concerned that the request was “inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the agreement,” which he hopes will prove to be a model for similar public-private healthcare partnerships. He pointed out that the hospital board is “a top-flight, well-regarded group of healthcare professionals that would rival any board.”
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he didn’t think Molina’s request was unreasonable, that the agreement between the UC and the county “was arranged to protect the (hospital) board from meddling,” but “not to keep secret how money was spent.” He added that “we are going to be held responsible for it politically.”
Supervisor Don Knabe raised the specter of mismanagement at the old King-Drew Medical Center, closed in 2007 after tragic and fatal lapses in patient care, which caused the federal government to pull its funding.
“We all have vivid memories of new equipment purchased and rusting on the roof of the old facility,” Knabe said. He added that he’d heard that the hospital board’s meetings were closed to the public and that his deputy hadn’t been allowed to attend.
Fujioka described the hospital’s board as open and cooperative and said that while its meetings were not required to open to the public, he was confident that supervisors’ deputies would be allowed to attend future sessions.
He said he thought the members would be willing to provide further detail on their plans for the $10 million in startup funds.
After Fujioka’s assurances, Molina decided not to make a formal request for more information, and the board unanimously agreed to part with the money.
Once complete, the hospital is expected to accommodate more than 30,000 annual patient visits and 10,000 annual outpatient visits.
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