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Hospital Start-Ups Benefit from a Fresh Community Perspective

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Over the last few posts, we’ve been looking at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH) in Los Angeles, Calif., and considering the benefits of joining a start-up healthcare organization. MLKCH opened in May of 2015, filling the void left behind by King Drew Medical Center, which shut its doors in 2007 after years of persistent and unresolvable quality and patient-safety problems.

By virtue of being brand new, MLKCH was able to get a fresh perspective on the community it would be serving. A fresh community perspective can be one major benefit in joining a new healthcare organization.

In the article I recently wrote on MLKCH, Elaine Batchlor, MD, MPH, chief executive officer, described how the governance board conducted a community-needs assessment early on to inform planning. One key finding was a shortage of 700 primary-care physicians and 1,000 specialists within the community.

“It’s a market that is challenging from a business perspective because it is a low-income community with Medicaid as the dominant payer, and unfortunately, despite the expansion of insurance under the Affordable Care Act, there continue to be residents who are uninsured and aren’t eligible for public programs because of their immigration status,” Dr. Batchlor said.

The community-needs assessment also revealed that the population was younger than other parts of Los Angeles, and the women in the community were having a high volume of babies. The board placed top priority on expanding the hospital’s OB program to both meet the needs of families and to maintain high-quality OB services.

A fundraising foundation was established, and its first project was to raise money to expand the OB program before the hospital opened. The drive was successful, and $8 million was brought in, basically doubling the number of deliveries MLKCH could do.

Dr. Batchlor pointed out that they did this even though more deliveries doesn’t necessarily result in a better bottom line. From the beginning, the board was determined to preface every organizational decision with the question, “What is best for the community and for our patients?” she said.

In opening this hospital, Dr. Batchlor also said she was reminded of how essential good project management is.

“I’m not sure that’s something a doctor would ordinarily know, but you really need to have good project management and good contingency planning. You have to be flexible and creative at solving problems.”

Furthermore, she learned to hold out for the best hires, to have the confidence to take risks, and to make bold, daring calls.

It would be very difficult for a long-standing healthcare facility to have the kind of advantages that MLKCH now has. In our final post, we’ll take a look at how it was able to create a hospital appropriate for the current healthcare market, while also being cognizant of the industry’s future.

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