L.A.’s real General Hospital

Marc Eckstein is medical director of the Los Angeles Fire Department and an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

General Hospital is about to shut down. No, I am not referring to the long-running TV soap opera. It’s the Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center -- the real General Hospital, shown at the start of the soap opera and also known as the Great Stone Mother -- that is about to close. In its place, a new, state-of-the-art facility is set to open next door Nov. 7.

As I watched the ceremonies surrounding the last game at Yankee Stadium recently, I could not help but think of General Hospital as the Yankee Stadium of hospitals. Both were built in 1923, and the accomplishments, the heroes, the memories and the headlines out of both institutions are too numerous to enumerate. However, at General Hospital, it has always been about the lives saved and affected at our facility.

I recall looking at General Hospital with awe when I started my internship there almost 20 years ago. As you walk through the main entrance, you look up and see the artwork on the domed ceiling depicting some of the greatest physicians throughout history, almost a medical version of the Sistine Chapel. There are parallel lines running throughout the main floor, each one painted in a different color or pattern, providing directions to each part of the huge facility. There is the infamous jail ward, located on the 13th floor. I guess someone had a sense of humor in placing a jail ward on Floor 13 because these patients clearly were down on their luck -- incarcerated and in need of medical attention.


The main emergency room is where I have spent most of my career at General Hospital. Despite the crumbling physical plant, the lack of central air conditioning, the bloodstains on the gurneys and the graffiti on the bathroom walls, the care provided to our patients has rivaled or exceeded any private hospital in town. One day, when I saw a homeless person who had been assaulted receiving the same respect and compassion as a CEO who had suffered a heart attack at Dodger Stadium -- as they were lying on adjacent gurneys in our ER -- I knew just how special a place General Hospital was and what a privilege it was to be a part of it.

There is a 20-square-foot resuscitation area in the center of the main ER reserved for our sickest patients, our major trauma patients and anyone in immediate danger of losing life or limb. This area is called “C-booth” -- the critical booth. It has been said that there probably has been more blood spilled on this floor than in any space in any hospital in the United States

Our doctors and nurses take care of people who sometimes don’t want to take care of themselves. They take care of people with nowhere else to go. About one of every four major trauma patients in Los Angeles County is treated at General Hospital. We have so much experience in trauma care that the Navy sends its medical personnel going into combat zones to our facility for training.

Over the years, thousands of physicians and nurses in every specialty have received their training at General Hospital, and all have countless stories to tell. It is one of the largest teaching hospitals in the United States.

Although the Great Stone Mother is closing, the good news is that what made General Hospital the icon that it is will live on. Its everyday heroes will continue to provide the best healthcare to those in need, regardless of their ability to pay. I can almost see the thousands of souls who were touched by this hospital standing up and applauding as the last doctor and nurse leave the building. I just hope they leave a light on.