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Councilman calls on Times owner to reopen empty hospital to care for homeless people

L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell speaks outside St. Vincent Medical Center in 2020.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell called on Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong on Tuesday to work with the city to reopen St. Vincent Medical Center to provide acute care for homeless people, complaining that the billionaire had failed to respond to their efforts.

At a news conference flanked by leaders of local health and community organizations, O’Farrell also urged Soon-Shiong not to sell the facility “to real estate interests only so it can be torn down for some sort of massive development. That is not what this community needs,” he said.

“We’ve been patient. We’ve tried to work with you. You have stonewalled us now for two years,” O’Farrell said, calling it “unacceptable.”

Soon-Shiong, who owns The Times and heads the global health firm NantWorks, said in an emailed statement that “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,” Soon-Shiong said. “I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this in-depth with members of the City Council.” He did not immediately address questions about his plans for the site.

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Soon-Shiong purchased the shuttered hospital in 2020 after its prior owner, Verity Health, had filed for bankruptcy protection. At the time, Soon-Shiong said he wanted the facility to be used for COVID-19 patients and research. Early in the pandemic, the Westlake site served as a temporary, state-funded surge hospital for COVID-19 patients.

The site has repeatedly drawn attention from L.A. officials amid the homelessness crisis. O’Farrell introduced a proposal nearly two years ago for city officials to initiate discussions with Soon-Shiong about possible uses for the site, including to address the needs of homeless people. L.A. County officials had also been interested in the site before Soon-Shiong completed his purchase, backing a county bid to use the center to address the homelessness crisis.

At a debate of L.A. mayoral candidates last month, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) mentioned the Westlake site as an example of facilities in the city that were not being fully utilized. Bass has called for the center to be leased to care for unhoused people. City Councilmember Kevin de León, in turn, argued that Soon-Shiong should donate the facility.

O’Farrell, who is now facing a November runoff election against labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martínez to hang on to his council seat, said the St. Vincent site could be set up as an acute care center within weeks. He urged Soon-Shiong to join him in fighting for state funding for the project, adding that “we’re not asking for you to do anything with your considerable wealth or sacrifice that.”

“We’re just asking you to meet us halfway,” he said.

The council member also announced an online petition Tuesday calling on Soon-Shiong to work with the city. “That a former hospital site, a stone’s throw from skid row, sits empty while people are living and dying in squalor on city streets is unacceptable,” the online petition states.


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