It has been eight years since officials shut down the historic King/Drew Hospital in Willowbrook because of medical errors that led to patients' deaths. The new Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital reopened on Tuesday. Although lacking the trauma center made famous by the old hospital, the new 131-bed hospital boasts an expanded outpatient clinic, a new urgent-care psychiatric center and a new public health clinic.
The old MLK facility opened in 1972 in response to the need for quality health care in South Los Angeles’ medically underserved community. Its trauma center was considered one of the best in the state. Late entertainment mogul Dick Clark credited the trauma unit for saving his life after a car crash.
For several decades, the hospital carried out the spirit of the man from which it was named. It served one of the neediest parts of Los Angeles, admitted and treated patients who did not have medical insurance. Now with the Affordable Care Act, the new hospital will have access to a greater number of patients who have a way to pay for services. Keeping in line with Obamacare, the new facility will focus on preventive care.
Financial mismanagement and a series of fatal mistakes caused the hospital to close down in 2007. Since then, residents have felt the gap created by its absence.
To attract new patients, MLK will have to rebuild its reputation caused by medical and financial malpractice. Officials have totally revamped the management and infrastructure. So far, 130 physicians, many of whom also work at UCLA medical facilities, have been approved to work at the hospital. Administrators have carefully vetted all hospital staff and don't expect a return of the kinds of complaints that gave King/Drew its reputation, an official said. "It really is a new beginning with new people," said Dr. Oscar Casillas, the hospital's director of emergency medicine. "The only thing that's the same is our physical location."
Prior to reopening the new facility, L.A.County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas celebrated the official seal of approval last week:
“Today is indeed a good day for Los Angeles,” he said. “Accreditation by The Joint Commission clears the final hurdle to restore quality hospital services at the MLK Medical Campus and marks the beginning of a new era in health care delivery in the Willowbrook community and beyond.”
“I want to convey heartfelt congratulations to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Hospital staff, the Board of Directors and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services for all of the tireless work they have invested in making this day a reality,” he added. “I look forward to the August 7 community dedication that will celebrate the facility’s formal opening. It is indeed a brand new day at MLK.”