State-funded L.A. ‘surge hospital’ opens at St. Vincent Medical Center

St. Vincent Medical Center
St. Vincent Medical Center near downtown Los Angeles is back in business to help ease the pressure on local hospitals amid the novel coronavirus crisis.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

A temporary state-funded hospital opened this week on the shuttered St. Vincent Medical Center campus near downtown Los Angeles in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Los Angeles Surge Hospital, which is operating at the St. Vincent complex, is accepting only individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, said Julie J. Sprengel, acting chief executive of the hospital and Southwest Division president of Dignity Health Hospitals. Patients are transferred by the county from community hospitals, Sprengel said.

The hospital, which opened Monday, had eight patients as of Friday morning, said Dr. Christina Ghaly, director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.


The hospital is one of a handful of facilities set aside for use during the pandemic. The Los Angeles-owned Convention Center is now being turned over for use as a field medical facility.

St. Vincent Medical Center closed earlier this year after former owner Verity Health System declared bankruptcy. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who also owns The Times, purchased the center for $135 million in a deal that was finalized this week. His global health firm NantWorks is a creditor in Verity’s bankruptcy proceedings.

Soon-Shiong has said he wants to create a “central command” center at St. Vincent Medical Center that would attract doctors and experts on the virus, and relieve pressure on other hospitals. He also plans to use the other buildings on the St. Vincent campus for COVID-19 research, according to a news release about the sale’s closure.

Before Soon-Shiong purchased the hospital, the state announced in March that it would lease the empty hospital. The state is paying $16 million for a six-month lease, an agreement that’s now been transferred to Soon-Shiong.

The state is also paying healthcare companies Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health a monthly management fee of $500,000 each to oversee the hospital.

The state will also pay for equipment and hospital staff. The total cost will depend on the number and acuity of patients treated, said Rodger Butler, a spokesman with the California Health and Human Services Agency.


Sprengel said this week that over 500 staff have been hired at the hospital, including physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and support staff.

Los Angeles County public health officials reported 40 more deaths Friday and 567 new cases, for a total of 495 deaths and 11,391 cases.

Department of Health Services’ Ghaly said Friday that discussions are ongoing about the best use of the hospital, particularly “given the ongoing changes in the demographics and the epidemiology, and as well as what hospitals, the general acute care hospitals, across the county are experiencing.”

Dr. Sunny Jha, an assistant clinical professor of anesthesiology at USC who helped set up clinical operations at the hospital, said in an interview Friday that having a facility devoted only to COVID-19 will make it easier for doctors to focus on patients and to conserve personal protective gear.