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UCI Medical Center to open new hospital

March 08, 2009|Tony Barboza

At the same time, Drake, who was hired by the university in 2005 just months before the liver scandal broke and remembers breaking ground on the hospital at one of his first public events, said the medical center has made progress over the last several years in management and safety.

"I'm extremely pleased with the dramatically increased level of transparency that we've made at many levels of our operation," Drake said.

At the helm of the new hospital on an interim basis is Terry Belmont, former chief executive of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children's Hospital.

His hope is that the new building will help UCI escape past stigmas and focus on its hallmarks, like its Cancer Center, the county's only regional burn center and its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

"This is one more step that reaffirms to the community that we are a hospital for the entire county," he said. The facility took more than a decade of planning and just over three years to build, and is being paid for mostly through $235 million in state public works bonds and $202 million in debt issued by the university as hospital revenue bonds, which the hospital will pay off over 40 years. Other funding includes $33 million contributed by donors. The fundraising goal is $50 million.

"Every time we have a new hospital opening beds, we're screaming, 'Hooray,' " said James Strebig, president of the Orange County Medical Assn., who also teaches medical students at UCI and UCLA. "I think it's going to be successful and serve the population of Orange County very well."

And while Strebig acknowledges that UCI's past problems could be a liability, he hopes they don't prove to be lasting.

"Most institutions have their bad apples, and UCI has had its fair share," he said. "I hope the last ones have been rooted out of the barrel."

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

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