St. Vincent's Medical Center has been reopened to help relieve the surge of COVID-19 patients overwhelming nearby hospitals in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy CEO Countywide Communications)

Shuttered hospital reopens to care for COVID-19 patients

April 14, 2020
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
The COVID-19 pandemic has breathed life back into a shuttered hospital in downtown Los Angeles.

State, county and hospital leaders at Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health reopened St. Vincent Medical Center Monday as The Los Angeles Surge Hospital to care solely for COVID-19 patients. Shut down since January, the hospital was revamped with essential equipment and supplies in just a matter of weeks, reported the Los Angeles Daily News.

“When we arrived just over two weeks ago, we found a few pieces of equipment but there were no services,” Julie Sprengel, Southwest division president for Dignity Health and acting CEO of the new surge hospital, told the newspaper. “As you can imagine, this was a huge undertaking for two different health systems to come together and open a new facility.”

The hospital will act as a source of relief for other medical facilities overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients, and will offer a wider range of services than those of other field hospitals being set up, including an intensive care unit. The aim is to open the facility in phases and eventually accumulate enough physicians and staff members to tend to 266 beds.

Kaiser and Dignity have integrated lab equipment, IT services, pharmacy, linen and food services as part of the revitalization process. The state of California has provided personal protective equipment and ventilators, and is overseeing staffing, with some individuals likely to be hired from more than 86,000 who signed up for the state’s new Health Corps. A chief medical officer and chief nursing executive have already been appointed.

Los Angeles county has been afflicted with the largest concentration of COVID-19 cases so far in California, according to county officials, with slightly more than 700 hospitalized with the virus, as of Wednesday. Roughly 23% of the 7,530 confirmed cases in the state have required hospitalization at some point so far, with the number of deaths reaching 199, according to the LA Daily News.

Estimates Wednesday put open bed numbers at 1,548, including 247 ICU beds. The state is looking to secure another 50,000 hospital beds — most of which are at existing facilities — though LA officials have not said the specific number of beds they require.

St. Vincent Medical Center is owned by Verity Health System, which has leased it to the state. It initially planned to sell the property in the Westlake District of Los Angeles. The deal fell through, though the property is still for sale and may have found a buyer in Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon and owner of the Los Angeles Times.

His family foundation offered to buy the facility out of bankruptcy for $135 million and turn it into a COVID-19 care and research center, though Soon-Shiong said last week that he would buy St. Vincent’s himself rather than use a foundation to facilitate the sale. The decision was met with objections by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We made a good faith bid to acquire St. Vincent Medical Center, in the hope that it would enable the state to prepare the facility for the surge in COVID-19 cases that is certain to come,” Soon-Shiong said in a statement Wednesday. “Although our tax attorneys had assured us that the foundation’s bid complied with all state and federal laws, we have informed those attorneys that I shall fund the purchase personally, instead of through the foundation, so as to avoid the baseless appearance of a conflict.”

The revamping of the facility also comes amidst the sale of another Verity property, St. Francis Medical Center, which is set to be sold to Prime Healthcare for a net consideration of $350 million.

Funding for St. Vincent’s and its operations will be provided by the state, which is responsible for obtaining all federal and state permits, licenses and waivers to operate.

All those chosen to work in the hospital will be licensed. No employees from Kaiser or Dignity will be used.