Staff Reporter

UCLA isn't the only teaching hospital in town getting a facelift. From L.A. County-USC Medical Center to Cedars-Sinai, public and private facilities throughout the region are spending millions on major expansions and retrofitting projects.

They include everything from new labs to bigger patient rooms. Some of the projects were required under changes in state law, while others are being done as a reaction to industry-wide changes in the ways health care is delivered.

Once the planned renovations are complete, L.A. County teaching hospitals will have two new trauma centers, several additional satellite medical centers, a new MRI facility, and an expanded cancer center. And for all that, there will be fewer beds, thanks to faster recovery times and a managed care system that demands more outpatient treatment.

"The driving force in all of this, which is not just going on in Los Angeles but California, is seismic retrofitting laws," said Jim Lott, executive director of the Healthcare Association of Southern California. "Most hospitals are in the process of development because 95 percent failed seismic requirements."

Lott said most hospitals have taken the mandate to retrofit as an opportunity to restructure facilities and make them more efficient.

One of the biggest planned renovations will take place at County-USC Medical Center, a seismically unsafe building that will ultimately be demolished after a replacement is built in Boyle Heights. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors has approved $657 million for the project, which will include 600 beds to replace the current 946-bed facility built in 1932.

Further progress on the hospital, though, has been stalled as county supervisors negotiate with state legislators over the size of a proposed satellite campus in Baldwin Park. The county proposed a 60-bed facility, while state legislators have asked for 125 beds. The two sides must reach an agreement for the hospital to receive state funding.

"(Any agreement is) a while off," said Dan Savage, chief of staff for Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, in whose district the hospital falls.

Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, led the push by the state for a 750-bed hospital to replace County-USC. But the price tag estimated between $818 million and $1 billion was considered too high by county supervisors.

The result has been a long period of wrangling between county and state officials. The state has agreed to allow a 600-bed County-USC facility, but only if the satellite hospital is built.

Much further along is the 537-bed Martin Luther King/Drew University Medical Center, where construction has started on a new six-story trauma center. The public hospital handles about half of all trauma cases in L.A. County, said Chief Executive Randall Foster.

So far, $64 million has been spent on the trauma center and the first two floors already have opened for care. The remaining four floors, estimated to cost $6 million to $7 million each, will be finished as money becomes available, Foster said. L.A. County funds, public bonds and Medicare/Medicaid money are being used to pay for the improvements, like County-USC.

The King/Drew building, built in 1972, is relatively new compared to other area teaching hospitals, and has required less work. But the center has not yet been inspected for seismic safety as required under state law, so further improvements might still be needed.

Drew officials also are pushing to open five to six satellite clinics throughout L.A. County over the next few years. And hospital officials are in talks with the county Department of Mental Health on a joint venture that would provide mental health clinics in satellite offices, Foster said.

"That's part of our charge over the next couple of years," Foster said. "It's kind of creating a tapestry of health care by allowing all care that doesn't need to be in a hospital (at a satellite), and allowing patients access to it closer to home."

USC University Hospital, built in 1991, is also pursuing an aggressive expansion program, said spokeswoman Jennifer Fragnani. Tenet Healthcare and USC run the 284-bed, private hospital. Over the next year, Fragnani said, the school will expand its MRI lab and add two cardiac labs. Tenet also is in talks with the university to add a seven-story patient tower southeast of the hospital.

The hospital is one of the few in L.A. that doesn't have to do seismic retrofitting, because it was built under newer building codes to withstand a quake measuring up to 8.0 on the Richter scale, Fragnani said.

At USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, the school will add five new patient suites and expand existing rooms. In June, it opened a breast cancer center.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a private teaching hospital, is remodeling its deluxe rooms, and in June opened the S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center for advanced imaging techniques like MRI and PET scanning.

Farther to the east in the San Bernardino area, Loma Linda University Medical Center, with 880 beds at its four facilities, will be retrofitting for earthquakes at a cost yet to be determined, said spokeswoman Anita Rockwell-Hayden. In 1997, the 1967-vintage hospital opened a cancer research center that was paid for by $30 million in government grants, and constructed a new building for the school of medicine.

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