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New South L.A. hospital to cost $32 million more than expected

'Unforeseen site conditions' bring cost of new county hospital in South L.A. to $284.4 million and push opening to 2015.

August 19, 2013|By Seema Mehta
  • Work continues on the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles. Officials say the total cost of the new facility, a renovation of the closed King/Drew hospital, will still be less than starting from scratch would have been.
Work continues on the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in South… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

The long-awaited reopening of a hospital in South Los Angeles will cost $32 million more than anticipated due to "unforeseen site conditions" and may not be able to accept patients until early 2015, according to Los Angeles County officials.

The new spending, expected to be approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors, brings the total price tag of the project to $284.4 million, nearly $50 million more than originally budgeted for the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital.

None of the five board members responded to requests for comment.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who made the hospital a centerpiece of his unsuccessful run for the board in 2008, said the delay is costing lives in South Los Angeles, which has been without an emergency room, trauma center or inpatient care since the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center was closed in 2007 after gross lapses in patient care. Residents seeking care must travel to hospitals in downtown Los Angeles, Bellflower, Inglewood, Long Beach and elsewhere.


FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this article referred to Jim Lott as the executive vice president of the Hospital Assn. of Southern California. Lott is the former executive vice president of the association and is now executive vice president of COPE Health Solutions.

"Without that emergency care, they have to travel miles and miles … and so the $32 million doesn't compare to the amount of loss of life," said Parks, who opposed the closure of the hospital.

Once the hospital was closed, officials decided to renovate it rather than rebuild it.

County officials said the increased cost was triggered by hidden problems and needs discovered once the renovation of an inpatient tower began.

"When we were designing the project four years ago, the first three floors of the building were still occupied, so there were some unforeseen things that could not have been anticipated" until workers got into the walls and superstructure of the building, said David Sommers, a spokesman for the county chief executive's office. "It's still cheaper than it would have been if we had torn the building down and started from scratch." That, he said, would have cost $400 million.

Some of the surprises included the need for additional bracing and retrofitting to make sure the hospital could not only withstand an earthquake but remain fully operational, said David Howard, assistant deputy director of the county Department of Public Works.

"It's not one big issue, it's many different little issues we're running into," he said.

Sommers noted that Tuesday marks the four-year anniversary of the board vote to approve the project, and he said it was "remarkable" to have the construction of a major medical campus 90% complete in that time frame.

"The goal here is the return of quality healthcare in South Los Angeles, and everything we've been doing for the past four years and beyond is getting to that goal," he said.

Construction is now expected to be completed by Oct. 31, and then it will take 12 to 15 months to move in medical equipment and furniture, hire employees, obtain licensing and fulfill other requirements, Howard said.

Unforeseen costs and delays are not surprising when building a hospital, said Jim Lott, executive vice president of the Hospital Assn. of Southern California.

"It's probably good to take the time to get it done right than it is to try to meet an artificially set opening day, especially considering the problems of the predecessor," he said.

However, Lott agreed that the residents would bear the brunt of the delay.

"The impact has to do with access to acute care by the community," he said. "The delay means they will continue to have to travel further to receive acute care until the hospital is open. That's the impact."

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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