The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 last week to rebuild earthquake-damaged County-University of Southern California Medical Center as a 600-bed facility, smaller than the 750-bed campus proposed by various lobbying groups and a county-sponsored study.
County politicians and health officials had debated the size of the replacement hospital for more than two years, with some factions urging a larger hospital while others argued that a larger hospital would be too costly to operate and that some patients could be shuttled to nearby private hospitals.
The board was finally prodded into taking action last month when the Federal Emergency Management Agency threatened to withhold $462 million in construction funds because of the delays.
Construction is expected to begin late next year, with completion slated for 2004. The cost is estimated at $800 million to $900 million, depending on final design plans.
The original facility, built in the 1930s, is the largest public hospital in the Western U.S. It's licensed for 1,760 beds but currently uses only 860 because of extensive damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Some healthcare experts have expressed concern that a 600-bed design would severely affect the new hospital's ability to treat trauma and critical-care patients. About 70% of County-USC's patients are admitted through the emergency room.
"A 750-bed facility would have been the desired plan to accommodate the trauma needs of L.A. County," said Jim Lott, senior vice president of the Healthcare Association of Southern California. "This will fall short, but we will have to make it work."