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The 2007 closure of Martin Luther King, Jr. Harbor Hospital (MLK) after it failed a federal inspection dealt a blow to the traditionally underserved South Los Angeles community’s access to health care. Now, under a public/private partnership involving Los Angeles County, the University of California and Martin Luther King, Jr. Los Angeles Healthcare Corporation, a new Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH) is nearing the final stages of construction – and the Fielding School alum who is helping to lead the effort says the new facility, projected to open in early 2015, will go far to fill the void.
“This is going to be an innovative, state-of-the-art hospital designed specifically to meet the needs of this community,” says Dr. Elaine Batchlor, MPH ’90, CEO of MLKCH. “We will be providing access to quality, patient-centered care that this community needs and deserves.”
Batchlor, hired as the new hospital’s CEO in 2012, has played an integral role since the start as part of the seven-member board formed shortly after the original MLK hospital closed. At that time, the county and UC system forged a partnership to reopen a new MLK community hospital as a private not-for-profit entity – with the county providing the new building and startup funding, and UC providing physician staffing and quality oversight.
Most importantly, notes Batchlor, MLKCH will be designed with a scope of services that meet the needs of South Los Angeles residents, including an emphasis on maternal care; general medicine and general surgery; management of chronic conditions that disproportionately affect the population; and programs that promote healthy patients, healthy families and a healthy community. Situated on a large piece of county-owned land, the new hospital is the hub for the county’s so-called Campus Master Plan, which was developed with input from residents, civic leaders, business owners and health care advocates. The plan envisions a web of community wellness resources around the hospital – including medical office space, psychiatric urgent care, child care and an assisted living facility, along with connected community gardens, pedestrian walkways and recreational facilities.
With the county effort to build the new facility nearly complete and MLKCH poised to start installing equipment and hiring staff, the hospital leadership is increasing its engagement with the community. Batchlor’s plan is to continue to engage local organizations, provider groups and community health clinics that are serving the population to ensure the hospital will meet the community’s needs.
The closure of the original MLK hospital has had a significant impact. A needs assessment conducted by the new leadership found a deficit of approximately 700 primary care physicians and 1,000 specialists in the facility’s service area; home health care, skilled nursing facilities and other medical services are also in short supply. The lack of an acute care facility has forced patients to travel to other communities for hospital care. “Part of our mission is to improve access to a coordinated system of primary and specialty services,” says Batchlor, previously chief medical officer at L.A. Care, the nation’s largest publicly operated health plan. “We are designing a facility to serve the entire community, regardless of insurance. Our intent isn’t just to open a hospital, but to create a system of care focused on population health. That will help us to look at the community’s health outcomes and design appropriate programs to address them.”