History of DHS

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Humble Beginnings

For over 150 years, Los Angeles County has provided quality medical care to residents regardless of their ability to pay.  From humble beginnings providing charity care in the City’s historic center, to expansion of community-based primary care through a public/private partnership program in the 1990s, the County has responded to the evolving health needs of a growing metropolis.  Today, the Department of Health Services (DHS) is the nation’s second largest municipal health system and a leader in trauma and burn care, chronic disease management, and programs for at-risk populations.

The origin of the health system dates to 1856, when six Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul traveled to Los Angeles from Emmetsburg, Maryland, to open a hospital. The eight-bed facility later became St. Vincent’s Hospital, from which the County purchased medical services for indigent patients.  In 1878, the County opened a 100-bed hospital and in 1885, the County partnered with the University of Southern California Medical School for the provision of medical care – a partnership that exists to this day.

During the 1920s, the County opened a Tuberculosis Sanatorium in the San Fernando Valley to relieve overcrowding at the Los Angeles County Hospital, giving it the name Olive View from the groves of olive trees on the property.  Today, the site houses Olive View-UCLA Medical Center.  The population growth of early Los Angeles led to the opening of County General Hospital in the 1930s (now LAC+USC Medical Center), which became a major training site for generations of physicians completing their Graduate Medical Education and the birthplace of Emergency Medicine.  In the 1940s, the U.S. Army sold surplus land and a station hospital in Torrance to the Department of Charities which was renamed Harbor General Hospital and is now known as Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey pushed innovation in the treatment of polio, opening a respiratory center and surgical program for post-polio patients.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the City of Los Angeles’ Health Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Hospitals merged to form the Department of Health Services.

Legacy of innovation

Today, DHS continues to meet its historic mission and legacy of innovation.  DHS physicians are blazing new paths in stroke and spinal cord injury rehabilitation, pushing new frontiers in medical research, and bringing evidence-based medicine to clinical practice. Through affiliations with the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), DHS hospitals are competitive training sites for medical students completing their Graduate Medical Education in nearly every specialty and subspecialty. 

In 2010, DHS began a significant transformation that included adoption of the patient-centered medical home model of care and the empanelment of over 400,000 patients to provider teams.  DHS also invested in an electronic medical record system and other technologies to empower patients and improve delivery of care.

DHS is also committed to improving the lives of residents outside of the clinical setting.  To reduce the burden of chronic homelessness and its impact on the health system, DHS and its partners aim to build 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing and achieve restorative health for justice-involved individuals through diversion and re-entry programs.  And as part of a newly-formed LA County Health Agency, DHS is working in closer collaboration with the Departments of Mental Health and Public Health to integrate services and focus resources on the most pressing health needs of LA County.