As California officials warn about an impending wave of COVID-19 infections, a shuttered hospital in Los Angeles that briefly reopened in the spring to help treat an expected surge of cases now appears to be the site of a major Hollywood production.
The parking lot of the former St. Vincent Medical Center is currently filled with trailers typically used by movie studios and television production companies for on-location shoots. A truck from a company called Cinelease, which describes itself as “a market leader in lighting and grip equipment rentals,” sits nearby. Tents cover outdoor dining areas and a line of cooks, who are busy preparing food.
There’s filming happening at St. Vincent Hospital AKA the abandoned hospital that was reopened for 39 days as Los Angeles Surge Hospital. Dr. Anand Annamalai called LASH “a clinically led socialistic system.”
— Brittani Nichols (@BisHilarious) December 7, 2020
What could be interpreted as a makeshift crew parking sign pointing to an indoor lot reads “TRIAGE,” a common word around hospitals but also the name of a pilot greenlit by ABC executives earlier this year.
After a shortage of intensive-care unit beds triggered a regional stay-at-home order throughout Southern California and beyond, public health authorities have been warning of a wave of new infections from Thanksgiving gatherings that is about to hit.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire who owns The Los Angeles Times, purchased the former 366-bed hospital out of bankruptcy earlier this year for $135 million. After a federal judge approved the sale on April 10, The Times reported that its owner “plans to create a coronavirus research facility on the campus” that would “attract doctors and experts on the virus” and “relieve pressure on other hospitals.”
The bankruptcy judge conveyed a sense of urgency for the parties to complete the transaction. Judge Ernest M. Robles wrote, “there is a risk that the purchaser will walk away if the sale does not close promptly, since the purpose of the sale – establishing a research center to address the COVID-19 pandemic – would be defeated absent a prompt closing.”
As the L.A. Times reported at the time:
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.
The temporary state-funded hospital opened on the St. Vincent complex on April 13, three days after the bankruptcy judge approved the property’s sale to Soon-Shiong.
State officials said the pop-up facility was needed to secure additional beds to treat COVID-19 patients. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom had said California would need 50,000 more beds to respond to what was to come. Called the Los Angeles Surge Hospital (LASH), it only admitted coronavirus patients who met certain criteria.
— Mia Alanis (@MiaAlanisPR) December 9, 2020
However, state officials closed LASH after just 39 days in operation and only treating 64 patients. Nine of them died.
Area hospitals were not overwhelmed, and the expected wave of sick people did not materialize. LASH never had more than 25 patients at a time and only grew to 63 beds, far short of its projected capacity of 266.
As The Times reported, “In time, the initial COVID-19 surge in Los Angeles County became more manageable,” and:
Operating costs for the surge hospital through May 31, according to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, were $21.5 million which covered medical treatments and physician salaries, as well as food services and the lease on the property.
Dr. Jamie Taylor, who worked at St. Vincent and LASH, told The Times in July that she did not expect another surge hospital to open on the property.
The lease with the state reportedly expired on September 30.
The L.A. City Council voted unanimously in October to initiate discussions with Dr. Soon-Shiong or his foundation about establishing a partnership to provide medical and mental health services to homeless people, older adults, and low-income residents in need of acute care.
Last month, it was announced that Dr. Soon-Shiong hired a brokerage firm to lease and reposition the 674,000 square-foot, five-building medical complex.
Supposedly a pilot. Def shooting inside(saw crew exiting entrance) pic.twitter.com/Hx5cKg8eGs
— Blue Shell Party (@BlueShell_Party) December 7, 2020
“The St. Vincent’s Medical Center campus is one of Los Angeles’ premier properties that will help boost the region’s economy and strengthen its position in the medical and life science industries,” said JLL Executive Vice President Chris Isola. “The 7.5-acre campus presents a rare opportunity for a company to position itself as a market leader and attract highly skilled professionals in a competitive workforce environment.”
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