Councilman seeks state help to reopen St. Vincent

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Wave Staff Report

LOS ANGELES — City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell is continuing his push to reopen the vacant St. Vincent Medical Center as an acute care facility for people experiencing homelessness.

On July 1, O’ Farrell introduced a resolution calling on the state to assist city efforts to reopen the facility that has sat vacant for two years despite the region’s homelessness crisis.

“The calls to reopen the vacant St. Vincent Medical Center are getting louder, and rightfully so,” O’Farrell said. “Every day this facility sits empty is a wasted opportunity to help the most vulnerable among us.

“We need partnership from all levels of government, as well as Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a multi-billionaire, to step up to the plate and reopen St. Vincent Medical Center as an acute care facility for people experiencing homelessness. It is unacceptable that this facility remains empty and unused in the face of our crisis.”

O’Farrell’s resolution was seconded by Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmen Kevin de León and Paul Krekorian. If approved by the full City Council, it will affirm the city’s position to support legislation or administrative action to study and fund state acquisition or lease, including necessary improvements, to reopen St. Vincent as an acute care facility for people experiencing homelessness. O’Farrell will travel to Sacramento to seek additional resources for issues facing Los Angeles, including the homelessness crisis.

“It’s devastating that we have people living on our city’s streets experiencing mental health crises and struggling with drug addiction,” Council President Martinez said. “No one should have to suffer alone and in such unsafe, unsheltered conditions. If there is a facility available where they can receive assistance, we need the state to act fast so we can provide these Angelenos with the care they desperately need.”

St. Vincent Hospital closed in early January 2020, two months before the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in Los Angeles and 16 months after Verity Healthcare, which owned the hospital, filed for bankruptcy.

Dr. Soon-Shiong, considered one of the richest men in Los Angeles, agreed to purchase the hospital, a deal that was approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court on April 10, 2020.

The hospital was leased by the state to treat coronavirus patients in July 2020, but closed within a matter of months when patient numbers began declining. Since then, the medical facility has been mostly closed despite repeated efforts from O’Farrell and others to work with its owner on activating the site.

“As Los Angeles faces a monumental crisis of homelessness, every available resource should be on the table to address the crisis, including the former St. Vincent hospital,” Councilman de León said. “I would like to think that major Los Angeles philanthropists, like the owner of the shuttered medical center, would recognize the urgency and step up to donate the site in order to expedite the need to get a roof over people’s heads.”

“There will be no solution to this crisis until we provide adequate health care for people who experience homelessness while suffering from acute health problems, including substance addiction and mental illness,” Krekorian said. “Our society’s investment in mental health care in particular has been grossly inadequate for decades. It is an outrage that St. Vincent’s continues to sit empty when it could be transforming and saving lives. The property owner and the State must act immediately to open St. Vincent’s to those most in need.”

Last month, O’Farrell was joined by civic leaders and public health advocates at a press conference calling on Dr. Soon-Shiong to work with the city on reopening the facility. Though Soon-Shiong publicly responded that he looks forward “to the opportunity to discuss this in-depth with members of the City Council,” he has not yet responded to O’Farrell’s subsequent request to organize the meeting.

During that time, more than 600 people have signed a public petition urging Dr. Soon-Shiong to make use of the shuttered facility.

As of 2020, there were more than 45,000 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County, 29,000 of them in the city of Los Angeles. A recent report from Los Angeles County quantified an alarming rise in preventable drug overdose deaths, tied directly to an increased use of methamphetamine and fentanyl, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county also reported that, from January to July 2020, deaths by drug overdose rose 33% when compared to the same time period in 2019. Since 2017, drug overdose has been the leading cause of death annually for people experiencing homelessness, and, from 2017 through 2019, people experiencing homelessness were 36 times more likely to die of a drug overdose than the average Los Angeles County resident.

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