A community comes together as the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital opens.
Chants of ‘a new day at MLK’ filled the air as thousands came together to celebrate the reopening of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Watts on Friday, Aug. 7.
The audience was full of California officials including Supervisor Mark Ridley – Thomas, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, California State Senator Isadore Hall, III, Congresswoman Janice Hahn, Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley – Thomas, Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson, Inglewood Mayor James Butts and Councilmember Curren Price to name a few. While the hospital has been opened since July 7, last Friday was a day used to celebrate everyone that made it possible.
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“Today’s event was historic, it was epic,” said Nomsa Khalfani, vice president of programs and strategic initiatives at California Family Health Council. “It’s a new day at MLK in South L.A. and I’m so proud to be a part of this experience. It symbolizes perseverance, hope and the need to make sure that we continue to have resources in our communities.”
The new hospital comes complete with state-of-the-art equipment and 131 beds. It is a private non-profit hospital that accepts patients regardless of their insurance status and citizenship. The hospital also accepts patients regardless of ability to pay as their focus is not on profit, but on patient care. Thousands of people were interested in contributing as 650 people were hired out of 14,000 applicants.
“It’s not easy to open a new hospital, in fact it’s one of the greatest challenges in the medical field,” said Manuel Abascal, chairman of the board at MLKCH “There are many words that start with a P, profit, power politics, but we are about the patients and what we can do for others. I have heard thousands of ‘how can we help?’ and not one ‘what’s in it for me.’”
Much like the goals of the previous hospital, the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital is made by the community for the community. The majority of construction workers who spent 1.3 million hour building the hospital live within five miles of the hospital. With the recent 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots, members of the community look at this new hospital as a symbol of how much progress has come.
“We would have to take two busses to get to the next hospital. If your child had asthma, they would die before they got there. If you were in labor, you had to have the baby before you went to the hospital,” said “Sweet” Alice Harris, founder of Parents of Watts. “And when you talk about Watts riots, we rioted because we were hurt. We ain’t hurt no more, and we don’t have to act out. Oh, this is the day, we don’t have to worry.”
Coming off the backs of the Watts riots and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the King/Drew Medical Center was opened in 1972. After decades of operation, it closed in 2007 due to failure to meet basis standards. Within the next year, there were talks to rebuild the hospital and by 2011, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas began leading master plan community meetings to get construction started.
“When I was elected in ’08 and saw that this hospital said closed, I vowed and promised to myself that I would work with whoever it was to make this hospital a success again,” said California State Senator Isadore Hall, III. “And I am proud to stand here today to witness a new phoenix rising again from the ashes of this once closed hospital. Today we begin a legacy of health and future for generations to come.”
There is a large sculpture of a puzzle piece that stands in front of the new building. It is there to symbolize that this is just the beginning for the new hospital. While it creates great opportunity, it is just one puzzle piece in what is yet to come.
“MLK Community Hospital is a dream job. It’s a new day at MLK and for all of us, it’s not about what was done in the past, but what we’re going to do moving forward,” said Stan K. Frencher, Jr., director of surgical outcomes and quality at MLKCH. “As we open this new hospital it’s a piece of the puzzle in the practice of medicine here in South Los Angeles. We want to provide high-quality, compassionate collaborative care that focuses on the patient and their family. We want to embrace the community in prevention as opposed to only being reactive.”
This hospital is just the beginning for what Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has in store.
“Expect to see a new recuperative care-center. Expect to see a new liberal office building. Expect to see a Rosa Parks transit center, because she sat down, the least we could do is stand up. Expect to see a new Willowbrook Library and finally expect to see the restoration of a Level 1 trauma center in the south central Los Angeles community,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Members of the community see this as a day of progress. They see it as a day that they didn’t expect to come.
“It’s so appropriate during this time that we have an uplifting event. A lot of us were skeptical, but to be here today and see that it is open, it is a glorious day,” said Jimmie W Gray, a Los Angeles City fire commissioner who lived in the community during the Watts riots.
They also say that it restores hope in the community.
“Today let people know in the community that people have not forgotten us. People here feel so helpless and so hopeless, there’s so much going on in their lives, to see something like this is a ray of hope,” said Kecia Woods, 45, a special education teacher who grew up in this community. “It shows that there’s still hope and they’re not going to leave us out here and they’re going to continue to help and support this community.”
For more information about the new hospital, visit www.mlkch.org.