Harbor-UCLA Getting a Multi-Million Dollar Overhaul

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Residents voting on improvements to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center at public meeting in Carson last October. (Photo: Anabell Romero)

Residents voting on improvements to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center at public meeting in Carson last October. (Photo: Anabell Romero)

Los Angeles County is investing more than $300 million to renovate Harbor-UCLA Medical Center to improve services at the 72-acre campus.

In 2009 County supervisors approved the expansion of the emergency room and renovation of the surgical ward. That work is nearly complete.

Even though the hospital has been under construction since last April, many nearby residents were unaware of the upgrade. One of them was 50-year-old Patricia De La Torre of Wilmington.

When De La Torre heard the hospital where she gave birth to her youngest son was being remodeled, she was thrilled.

“We are in need of better health care and all of us that are in poverty need as many benefits as possible ... nutrition programs, better health programs and services for the mentally ill,” said De La Torre.

Harbor-UCLA had 80,636 patients who visited the emergency room between June 2010 and July 2011. Many residents generally think of Harbor-UCLA as being an overcrowded and short-staffed hospital with long waits for medical attention.

The ER expansion and the renovation to the surgical ward is the first step to a major overhaul of the campus. The County is also in the midst of drafting a master plan to guide all future renovations at the medical center for the next several years.

The County of Los Angeles held a series of community meetings open to the public to assist in developing a master plan. Community members shared what priorities they would like the master plan to include, such as areas of health and wellness, campus uses, physical environment and economic development.

The master plan must be completed, reviewed and vetted internally. Then, a finance plan will be developed and approved by the L.A. Board of Supervisors, according to David Sommers, acting director of public affairs for the chief executive office of Los Angeles County.

“The goal of the plan is to meld research and patient modalities on the campus, including improved circulation, increased green space, use of sustainable structures and increased parking capacity,” said Sommers.

At the last community meeting in October held at Victoria Park in Carson the public voted on services they would like implemented in the master plan. The results showed that the majority voted for more job opportunities, flexible clinic hours, mental health services, learning centers with internet access for patients, in-house education for staff, a fitness center and more efficient parking. But not everything will make the final cut.

“The biggest challenge in developing the plan is addressing all of the competing priorities for the limited space and resources available on the campus,” said Sommers.

The hospital is long past due for a restoration since the existing campus was originally developed in the 1940’s. It has had numerous complaints from patients as a result of limited resources. Last October the Los Angeles Times reported that the hospital had failed to maintain a sanitary environment for surgeries.

"There were some cleaning processes that we’re doing in our sterile operating environment that we moved to a different area of the hospital,” said Harbor-UCLA Chief Executive Officer, Delvecchio Finley. “There’s been a very robust hospital wide hand hygiene effort to increase the frequency and the appropriateness of people washing their hands.”

Even though there have been some improvements Virginia Anders-Ellmore, nurse practitioner at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said the county waited too long to implement these changes.

“We have now closed 15 clinics. USC has reduced their bed size from 1,000 down to 500. We have lost Martin Luther King Hospital, and it seems like only when we kind of run into trouble, then the Board of Supervisors, at that point, they somehow find some money, to hire a few more people,” said Anders-Ellmore.

The design team will take all of the input received from the community, government agencies and health care professionals and try to come up with options that will give the community an idea of what types of land use changes can be made according to officials at the last community meeting.

These options will be posted for the public to provide input. Based on all the feedback received a final option will be chosen and presented at the next community meeting in mid-April.

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About Anabell Romero

Anabell Romero is an aspiring journalist who grew up in Wilmington and returned home after graduating from UC Santa Cruz. She is currently a graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. She is very committed to her community and hopes to bring positive change. Since 2009 she has been Member at Large of the Wilmington Neighborhood Council. She also helped create The Wilmington Wire, a cooperative blog for the community. In addition to graduate school, she works for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships as Program Coordinator. She has a fondness for informing people about issues that directly impact their community’s infrastructure. Her passion is driven by the fact that she grew up in a largely Latino neighborhood that continues to be faced with many issues that deplete the quality of life for its residents. Her goal is to trigger dialogue about community issues to help empower residents to bring positive change to Wilmington.

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