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Medical school drops $125-million suit against L.A. County over King/Drew closure

Drew University will receive county building space under favorable rental terms and a long-term payment schedule for its share of a multimillion-dollar age bias lawsuit payout.

September 11, 2009|Garrett Therolf

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science has agreed to drop a $125-million claim that alleged Los Angeles County breached its contract by halting inpatient services at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center.

In return, the university will receive county building space under favorable rental terms, a long-term payment schedule for its share of a multimillion-dollar age discrimination lawsuit payout and the ability to forge a new relationship with the county as the Board of Supervisors moves to reopen the hospital.

"It's a win-win for everyone," Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said Thursday. "The good news is that it puts the past behind us and it puts everyone on equal footing with respect to building a much better environment for the delivery of healthcare in the southeast portion of the county of Los Angeles."

When supervisors voted in 2007 to downgrade the Willowbrook facility -- by then renamed King-Harbor -- to an outpatient clinic, Drew University scrambled to find new placements for its 250 medical residents.

The hospital shut down inpatient services after years of repeated failures to provide adequate care, including errors involved in multiple deaths. County supervisors are now seeking to reopen the hospital through a partnership with the University of California.

Drew University's interim president, Dr. Keith Norris, could not be reached Thursday, but he issued a statement lauding the deal. "The county of Los Angeles is a potential partner that has a lot of resources that can help us become self-sustaining," he said. "It can leverage its strength to help enhance our institution."

Ridley-Thomas, whose chief of staff is the daughter of the university's namesake, is a longtime supporter of the institution. He has pledged to find a role for it in a reopened King hospital. His colleagues on the board, who have sharply criticized the university's performance in the past, have remained largely silent on that possibility.

The university, the only historically black medical school west of the Mississippi River, has suffered persistent accreditation and leadership crises. More recently, the school has been hard hit by the recession.

Ridley-Thomas said he was nevertheless optimistic about the university's future.

"I think the settlement of the lawsuit should be interpreted as new leadership seeking to make a difference in a positive way," he said.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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