Councilman calls for former hospital to reopen

Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell has started a petition calling for St. Vincent Medical Center to be reopened as an acute care center for people experiencing homelessness.

The vacant, 381-bed hospital is owned by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who O’Farrell called “the richest person in Los Angeles.” Soon-Shiong, a transplant surgeon, is also the owner of the Los Angeles Times.

“He has owned this hospital and campus for over two years,” O’Farrell said at a press conference June 14. “Except for a very brief time in 2020, when the state paid Dr. Soon-Shiong $27 million to use the facility as a temporary COVID hospital, the property has sat vacant.

“Rather than trying to sell it for redevelopment, and refusing to even consider working with us on adaptive reuse or repurposing, I urge Dr. Soon-Shiong to work with our broad coalition of local, county and state leaders to make something happen here to the benefit of all, and especially the most vulnerable in our region.”

The property was bought by Soon-Shiong in April 2020. Los Angeles County had submitted a bid a couple months earlier to purchase it to use for homeless housing and assistance. The previous owner, Verity Health System, began a partnership with the state in March 2020 to open the hospital for COVID-19 patients.

In a statement to City News Service June 14, Soon-Shiong said, “Unfortunately, I was not informed of today’s press conference. I agree that medical care and mental health services are important issues in confronting the homelessness crisis. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this in depth with members of the City Council.”

O’Farrell’s office said the city has sought to collaborate with Soon-Shiong for the last two years to reopen the hospital, which operated for more than 164 years before it closed.

“Between 2020 and 2021, the city lost 369 ‘board and care’ beds, and I ask the owner of this property to work with the city and the county to not only replace the beds lost, but add to the desperately needed inventory,” said Kerry Morrison, founder and project manager for the organization Heart Forward, which aims to transform mental health care through “radical hospitality,” according to its website.

“St. Vincent has the capacity to provide a total of 500 beds for people living with serious mental illness, as well as our growing elderly population, who are otherwise not served by our traditional affordable housing continuum,” Morrison added. “This is an opportunity to lead by example in showing how the private sector could step up to the plate to collaborate with government partners and not turn a blind eye to the suffering of the unsheltered.”

Also speaking at the press conference were Mark Valentino, CEO of the LA Downtown Medical Center; and Carlos Vaquerano, CEO of Clínica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero.

“The surge in homelessness across Los Angeles presents challenges that can only be solved by public-private partnerships,” Valentino said. “If a facility like St. Vincent were to become operational again, it would have a profound impact on our community. We could relieve stress on our emergency rooms and local hospitals, which have already dwindled in number during the pandemic. Better health care, and access to more resources, can lift up the tide for everybody.”

“For the past two years, we’ve been fighting a pandemic that has affected many in our community,” Vaquerano added. “Our clinic serves over 15,000 patients, and many years ago, we used to be a partner with St. Vincent.

“We call upon the owner to open this facility to serve people experiencing homelessness, many of whom are undocumented, underserved, good people. We need to support them with whatever they need, and we are grateful to Councilmember O’Farrell for being a champion in the fight against homelessness.”