LOS ANGELES — The county Board of Supervisors took a victory lap last week, celebrating the success of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, which has been fully operational for more than a year.
“Anybody here objecting to good news?” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked before adding, “We have collectively made good on our commitment.”
That commitment was to provide health care to residents left with few options after the closure of Martin Luther King-Drew Medical Center in August 2007, following a long series of fatal medical lapses.
The $210 million hospital in unincorporated Willowbrook, south of Watts, welcomed its first patient in May 2015 and opened all its 131 beds six months later.
Since then, demand has been high and growing, according to the hospital’s CEO, Dr. Elaine Batchlor.
“I’m here to tell you that we’re doing very well and the hospital is very busy,” Batchlor told the board Jan. 17.
The hospital’s emergency room sees more than 70,000 patients a year — double the original forecasts of demand — and inpatient beds are at capacity, the CEO said.
“We are completely full,” Batchlor said.
About 10 percent of emergency room patients are admitted to the hospital and the average stay is 3.4 days.
Though the staff of 1,000, which includes 300 nurses, is busy, patients report a high satisfaction rate, according to surveys by Press Ganey.
In a 2016 survey, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital scored better than 83 percent of hospitals nationwide.
And there have been zero hospital-acquired infections during the past year, according to hospital authorities.
One frequent board critic accused the county of presenting biased statistics about the hospital’s performance and failing to talk about its financial standing.
“I am so appalled by what I have heard,” said Genevieve Clavreul, a nurse and healthcare management consultant, who called for an audit and claimed that thousands of patients were being routed from the hospital to urgent care.
Ridley-Thomas countered that audits were “routinely done” and a matter of public record. He added that the hospital, which is run by a board of professionals rather than the county, is in good financial shape.
County CEO Sachi Hamai confirmed that the medical center’s governing authority has paid all principal and interest payments due to the county and owes a remaining $82 million.
The hospital is part of a $650 million medical campus that includes outpatient and urgent care centers.
Most of its patients — 78 percent — are insured by Medi-Cal, 11 percent are uninsured, 7 percent are covered by Medicare and 4 percent carry private health insurance.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger gave Ridley-Thomas credit for the hospital’s success, telling him it was the “direct result of your hands-on commitment to the community.”
Supervisor Janice Hahn thanked Ridley-Thomas “for your vision, for your passion, for your dedication … to bring something back from the ashes.”
Her late father, longtime county supervisor Kenneth Hahn, led efforts to build the original King-Drew hospital, which opened in 1972.