Cedars-Sinai Medical Center got its start with two small community hospitals that opened at the start of the 20th century. Its mission expanded over the decades to focus on meeting the full range of the healthcare needs of both the Jewish and general communities.
Today, the massive hospital complex is the largest not-for-profit medical center in the western part of the United States. Its teams continue to provide research, patient care, and community outreach of a quality that has made it one of the world’s leading centers of breakthrough science, medical education, and service to its community.
It embodies the spirit of tikkun olam.
The hospital began by serving the Jewish community, fulfilling the highest social value of tikkun olam (“repairing the world” in Hebrew), but it didn’t stop there. It continues to work in the spirit of the Jewish ethical tradition, as it concentrates on reaching out to those most in need from every background across the diverse fabric of the Los Angeles area.
It is nicknamed the “hospital to the stars” thanks to its status as hospital of choice for numerous Hollywood celebrities. However, Cedars-Sinai further expanded its service to struggling communities in 2020 by broadening the income requirements necessary to receive free or reduced-cost services.
It was originally founded to treat Jewish patients with tuberculosis.
Cedars-Sinai as we know it today was formed from the merger of Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (originally Kaspare Cohn Hospital) with Mount Sinai Hospital (which developed out of the Bikur Cholim Society’s hospice). Kaspare Cohn Hospital opened its doors on Carroll Avenue in Los Angeles in 1902, out of the home of its founder and namesake. Kaspare Cohn was a businessman and founder of Union Bank who donated the residence located in the neighborhood now known as Echo Park.
The hospital’s original mission was to treat Jewish patients who had contracted tuberculosis. A pioneer in more ways than one, Kaspare Cohn included on its staff one of the area’s first-ever women doctors, Dr. Sarah Vasen, who served as medical director from 1906.
In a 2002 article tracing the Cedars-Sinai story, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles noted that TB was a widespread problem among American Jewish communities of Eastern European origin. Many migrated west from the crowded tenements of New York and other eastern cities, hoping for a cure for the contagious disease then often referred to as “consumption.” The idea was that the cleaner, drier air would have a healing effect.
These “lungers,” as the slang term called them, produced a surge in the Los Angeles Jewish population, which quadrupled from the turn of the century to reach 10,000 by 1910. Several local Jewish benevolent organizations joined forces to try to help their new community members. Vista Del Mar, for example, now a broadly focused social service organization, originated in 1908 as an orphanage for Jewish youth who had lost their parents to tuberculosis.
It was a refuge from anti-Semitism.
The need for hospitals devoted specifically to the American Jewish community was great in the 19th century and much of the 20th. Most new Jewish immigrants were poor, with no other recourse to obtain professional medical care.
Many Jews also wanted to be treated in a hospital that would respect their religious and cultural traditions, such as keeping kosher and observing Shabbat. And due to the presence of widespread anti-Semitism in America at the time, Jewish patients could not always count on receiving equal treatment—or sometimes any treatment at all—at non-Jewish hospitals in their communities.
Jewish hospitals also existed as a way of offering top-flight medical training to Jewish healthcare professionals. Even in the 1930s and 1940s, it was often impossible for a Jewish doctor, regardless of experience or credentials, to get hired at a non-Jewish facility.
In 1918, Los Angeles’ Bikur Cholim Society (the literal translation of the Hebrew is “visiting the sick”) began treating hospice patients. Located in a residence in Boyle Heights after 1921, it remained the Bikur Cholim Hospital until its relocation to Beverly Boulevard in 1955 as Mount Sinai Hospital. It was on this site that the current Cedars-Sinai Medical Center began to expand after the hospitals merged in 1961.
It continues to pursue its mission in new ways.
Until the mid-20th century, Cedars-Sinai’s sole goal was direct patient care. While that has continued as the core mission, it expanded into research and medical education after the mid-1950s. Now, working as part of the Cedars-Sinai Health System, it employs more than 12,000 staff, and admits about 50,000 patients in a typical year.
One component of Cedars-Sinai’s multi-strategy pandemic response is its innovative COVID-19 Recovery Program. Launched at the beginning of 2021, this effort works specifically with patients dealing with the symptoms of “long COVID” months after their recovery from SARS-CoV-2. The related Cedars-Sinai Cardiology Program assists people with lingering heart problems, and its Post-ICU Post-COVID Clinic supports those with post-intensive care issues stemming from COVID or another critical illness. This work falls squarely within the original mission of the Kaspare Cohn Hospital from 1902: to bring healing to patients stricken with infectious diseases and other ills, using the best-available scientific treatment and the highest standards of care.