Community Celebrates New MLK Outpatient Center

Several hundred people turned out for the celebratory ribbon cutting at the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center, ushering in a new era of healthcare for residents in the Watts/Willowbrook area.

The festivities included tours of the $172 million-county center, live salsa music and health resource booths to show off another jewel on the MLK Campus. The Outpatient Center is an important part of the county’s plan to deliver quality primary care and preventive services to keep people healthy. It is adjacent to the new MLK Community Hospital, which is set to open next year.

The center and hospital are part of a wellness village that also includes the Center for Public Health, which opened in October 2011, and provides immunizations as well as testing for sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis. A psychiatric urgent care facility that will offer mental health services to residents is scheduled to open in the fall.

“Community transformation and healing is not for the faint of heart,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who pledged in 2008 when he was elected to the Board of Supervisors to bring a new, state-of-the-art hospital to the community. “New buildings alone are not enough…Today we stand at the center of a circle of community wellness. It starts with each one of us, one heartbeat at a time.”

At the ribbon cutting, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas was joined on stage by philanthropist/doctor Patrick Soon-Shiong, ABC-7 television anchor and emcee Marc Brown, Chief Executive of the Outpatient Center Cynthia Oliver, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services Mitch Katz as well as community activist and icon, Sweet Alice Harris. Harris noted that good medical care was desperately needed in the area.

“I’ve lived here 60 years. I’ve seen people die in their homes for not having anywhere to go,” she said, telling the audience a story of a little girl with asthma who died on her way to a faraway hospital when there was no medical care nearby. “We have needed this medical center. We needed it badly. It looks like Beverly Hills. We got the best.”

With its bright terrazzo floors and gleaming steel and glass picture windows, the Outpatient Center will open to the public June 17. Constructed by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, it boasts 70 specialty clinics, a range of services from pediatric and obstetric care to orthopedics and neurology, as well as a blood infusion bay for chemotherapy patients, a stroke rehabilitation suite and an oral surgery center.

There are five operating rooms for outpatient surgical procedures, in addition to rehabilitation services and a wide array of diagnostic services. The urgent care center will operate seven days a week, 16 hours-a-day for urgent needs.

The ribbon cutting was also noteworthy for the students at King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science across the street. Since he was a freshman, Isai Rea, has been eagerly watching the construction of the Outpatient Center. Now a 17-year-old junior, he hopes to have a shot an interning with the nurses and doctors on site so he can gain experience in internal or sports medicine.

“This new site is modern and state of the art,” he said as he waited for a tour. “It is so beautiful and it’s great that I get to see it up and running before I graduate from high school.”

For Hilda Alvarez, having a state of the art Outpatient Center has meant the difference between life and death. Suffering from cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis, Alvarez said she hoped that all residents will benefit from the new facility.

“I hope that with this testimony, people will come to this new center,” she said. “I was not from this community. But I am now.”