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Major upgrade at Harbor-UCLA hospital is imminent

Los Angeles County supervisors approve the final part of a $333-million plan to expand the emergency room and renovate the surgical ward.

September 30, 2009|Garrett Therolf

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, one of the Los Angeles County health network's most heavily used facilities, is poised for a major expansion that planners hope will greatly relieve overcrowding.

County supervisors voted Tuesday to approve the final piece of a $333-million plan to expand the Torrance facility's emergency department and renovate the surgical ward.

The emergency room will grow from 25,000 square feet with 42 bays to 75,000 square feet with 80 bays, providing enhanced privacy. The existing facility treats 65,000 adults and 20,000 children every year.

Patients with critical injuries are examined within minutes, but patients seeking more routine care can sometimes wait more than 16 hours.

"Many of our patients are currently [treated] in five or six chairs in the hallway and in as many as 12 gurneys also in the hallway. Now, they will all have regulation-size rooms with the space and privacy to wait with their family while they are receiving care," said Robert Hockberger, chairman of the emergency department.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes Harbor, said: "Although there is a lot of bad news going around these days, it's important to note that this county is stepping up to its responsibility to restore the badly needed safety net."

The plan to expand Harbor's capacity was conceived in the early 1990s but was delayed for years by the financial crisis in the county's health services department.

Now the hospital is facing a 2013 deadline to retrofit its facilities to survive a major earthquake, prompting supervisors to act.

Along with the improvements at Harbor, the county just completed a $27.5-million retrofit of the inpatient tower at Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar and is beginning a $49-million project to build a new emergency room there.

At Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, the county is building a $258-million inpatient annex. In Lancaster, county officials are close to purchasing land for a $100-million outpatient facility.

The county has also pledged to reopen inpatient services at Martin Luther King Jr. hospital in Willowbrook, but that will require the approval by the University of California of a new partnership. In November, the university's Board of Regents may consider approving the plan to form a nonprofit with the county to oversee the hospital.

"With the expansion at Harbor and the reopening of King, you will see a very high standard of healthcare in the southern portion of this county that has never been seen before," Ridley-Thomas said.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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