L.A. billionaire's $100M can save MLK

LOS ANGELES After a troubled-past and subsequent closure, it appears /*Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital*/ may get another chance to serve the more than 600,000 people living in the surrounding areas.

"I believe this is a great day for Los Angeles," said state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. "It's a great day for the families who have been without real health care options since Martin Luther King Hospital shut down."

The man underwriting the L.A. County Board of Supervisors latest proposal to breathe new life into MLK is Los Angeles billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.

The former UCLA surgeon says he was moved by the chronic problems at MLK, most especially by the death of patient Edith Rodriguez, who died in the emergency room after failing to get medical attention from hospital staff.

"I actually personally drove down on a Saturday to walk quietly the halls to understand exactly what happened," explained Soon-Shiong. "I met with the emergency room doctor and with tears in his eyes, he explained what happened."

Soon-Shiong made his fortune in pharmaceuticals. His family's foundation donated $135 million to St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, and now another $100 million to reopen a renovated, 120-bed, state-of-the-art MLK, a private non-profit entity, with UCLA doctors and residents on staff.

"It's now an opportunity to right a wrong in which disparities would affect not only the entire community, it affects the nation, so the opportunity for me now to be a catalyst for the L.A. County and the UC system to come together and open up this institution to me is a privilege," said Soon-Shiong.

The county has committed to a $350 million capital investment in the new Martin Luther King hospital but officials say the public-private venture still needs more funding from the private sector. If all goes as planned, MLK could reopen by December 2012.

"If the billionaire really does that, I'll really appreciate it," said Compton resident Leo Wyatt. "It'll find some new jobs here in the community. I think it'll be great."

"I think that's good, they need a hospital in this area," said Los Angeles resident Jose Pena. "Hopefully they'll have 24-hour emergency services. It's what they need around this area especially."

The UC Board of Regents is expected to review the proposal November 19. If it is approved, renovations at the hospital could begin as early as next May.

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