LOS ANGELES —The oldest hospital in Los Angeles has shut down and laid off all its employees after more than 150 years, sending shockwaves through the Chinatown neighborhood that it served in recent decades.
Pacific Alliance Medical Center – better known as the French Hospital — quietly closed its doors Nov. 30, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday. Its lease expired days later and all 638 employees were let go.
It was Chinatown’s only hospital, serving a large population of seniors and recent immigrants and delivering generations of “French babies,” as they came to be known.
The shutdown stunned the rapidly gentrifying Chinatown neighborhood. Residents said the closing leaves families without an important option for health care. Community advocates worry about the economic impact of losing one of the area’s biggest employers.
Amy Mar, who has lived and worked in the neighborhood for nearly 50 years, told the Times that “Chinatown doesn’t feel like a place for Chinese people anymore.”
The French Hospital was established in 1860 during a smallpox scare to serve 4,000 French people who lived in Los Angeles at the time. It became popular with Chinese people decades later as they began to settle the area.
The hospital’s cafeteria served Asian food, such as congee and stir-fried snow peas. It supported youth basketball teams, offered health classes in multiple languages, and helped sponsor various Chinese festivals.
A representative of the Pacific Alliance Medical Center told the newspaper that the hospital chose not to renew its lease because state law requires the facility to complete nearly $100 million of earthquake renovations by 2030.
Investing that much money would be impractical, the hospital said, because someone else owns the land it sits on. PAMC, which has tried to buy the hospital land twice, owns only a small part of the property, land containing a parking lot. Building a new hospital would have cost more than $400 million.
According to state records obtained by the Times, the hospital posted operating losses of $53 million and $44 million in 2015 and 2016, respectively. This year, the hospital paid $42 million to settle a federal whistleblower lawsuit that alleged that it was forming illegal partnerships with doctors in exchange for patient referrals.
The nonprofit that founded the French Hospital, La Societe Francaise De Bienfaisance Mutuelle De Los Angel, still owns the hospital property. The nonprofit has a two-year option to purchase the hospital’s parking lot, hospital representatives say. Gary Wilfert, vice president of the society, told The Times he could not comment on the nonprofit’s plans.