A doctor who says he was moved by the story of a woman who died without proper care in the emergency room waiting area at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital is putting a $100 million in loan guarantees behind a movement to revive the troubled institution. The question is, on this Halloween eve, is the place haunted by negligence? Might it be better to go Poltergeist on the Willowbrook building and nudge its implosion while the county looks elsewhere to seed a new hospital?
Multibillionaire surgeon Patrick Soon-Shiong believes that King can be resurrected without the macabre practices that dogged its existence until its closure in 2007. Edith Isabel Rodriguez, whose calls for help were ignored at a waiting room in the spring of that year, died in a pool of her own blood on the floor. In 2003 two patients whose deteriorating vital signs weren't being monitored closely also perished. Staff members used taser guns to control unruly psychiatric patients. Knott's Scary Farm — for real.
The area desperately needs a hospital and it could use an emergency room even more. Through his Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, the South Africa-born doctor is guaranteeing $100 million in loans to open the institution, according to a foundation statement.
California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stood with Soon-Shiong as he made the multimillion dollar announcement at UCLA, where the billionaire worked as a medical center surgeon before turning his talents to money making pharmaceutical breakthroughs with his AbraxisBioScience Inc.
“When Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital closed, it left an already underserved
community without access to adequate health care,” Soon-Shiong stated. “The prospect of catalyzing the reopening of MLK is wonderfully exciting and consistent with the mission my wife and I set out for our foundation.”
The county board of supervisors, which couldn't keep King in check after repeated warning signs and interventions, have pledged $354 million to reopen and maintain the institution as a 120-bed hospital starting in 2012. But they want the University of California to get on board to provide physicians. UC regents want to see more money on the table, and that's why Ridley-Thomas approached the doctor. The $100 million in loans could help entice the regents, which will take vote on the prospective partnership Nov. 19.
Our suggestion is this: With the building under-utilized and likely containing cool artifacts — exam tables, skeleton posters, unplugged x-ray machines — the county should turn it into a haunted house for Halloween. We'd pay to see it. But the screams of pain — oh the screams — that haunt the place would probably give us chills beyond the pale.