History of DHS


An Agency of Accomplishment and Innovation

For over 150 years, Los Angeles County has provided health services to residents regardless of their ability to pay for care. From modest beginnings providing charity care in the City of Los Angeles’ historic center, to the rapid expansion of community-based primary care services through the Public/Private Partnership (PPP) program in the 1990s, the County has responded to the health needs of a growing metropolis.

Los Angeles County’s healthcare system began in 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 its own 100-bed Los Angeles County Hospital and Poor Farm as a way of lowering cost to the county. The University of Southern California (USC) Medical School entered into an affiliation with the Los Angeles County Hospital in 1885.

During the 1920s, the County opened Olive View in the San Fernando Valley as a tuberculosis sanatorium to relieve the overcrowding of TB patients at the Los Angeles County Hospital, taking its name from the groves of olive trees on the property. The population growth of Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s spawned construction of County General Hospital on Mission Road (now LAC+USC Medical Center), which became a training site for generations of new physicians completing their graduate medical education.

The towering white structure gained global fame from being featured in the opening credits of the long-running “General Hospital” television drama. Also during the 1940s, the U.S. Army sold surplus land and a station hospital to the County’s Department of Charities, which became Harbor General Hospital (now Harbor-UCLA Medical Center) to serve the Southbay region.

In the early 1950s, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey positioned itself as one of the country’s leading polio treatment facilities with the opening of its respiratory center and surgical program for post-polio patients. During the 1960s and 1970s the City’s Health Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Hospitals merged to form the present-day Department of Health Services. These decades also saw the construction of County-run hospitals and health centers, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital in South Los Angeles.

Facility closures during an economic downturn in the early 1990s was offset by the growth of the Public/Private Partnership (PPP) program in 1995 to expand access to primary care for low-income residents through contracts with private nonprofit clinics. And in 2008, a new 600-bed state-of-the-art replacement hospital for LAC+USC Medical Center opened with fanfare as a major 911 receiving hospital, trauma center, and hub in the County-run health system.

DHS Today and Tomorrow

The Department of Health Services continues to build on its legacy of care innovation. Department of Health Services physicians are blazing new paths in stroke and spinal cord injury rehabilitation, and bringing research and evidence-based medicine to practice across the health system. Through affiliations with the medical schools of the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Department of Health Services' hospitals are highly desired training sites for medical students completing their graduate medical education in nearly every specialty and subspecialty.

With the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act legislation in 2010, the Department of Health Services is transforming to meet the needs of the County’s newly insured populations. Among the highlights of this transformation work is the empanelment of patients and creation primary care “medical homes” to improve care coordination in a team-based model. The department is also investing in personnel and technology, like an electronic medical record (EMR) system, to keep pace with the new demands of healthcare and remain the care provider of choice in the decades to come.

Department of Health Services physician leaders are developing programs to reduce high risk pregnancies, improve outcomes in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, establish new paradigms in stroke primary care, change the course of diabetes, and set bold new paths in quality improvement as a high performing health organization.

Within this dynamic environment, the Department of Health Services looks forward to a bright future and to expanding the system in meaningful and responsive ways. Construction is nearing completion on a new, 120-bed Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital and medical campus in South Los Angeles; the newly expanded Emergency Department at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center will soon be open to better meet the trauma and acute care needs of the region; and a state-of-the-art replacement facility for the High Desert Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center will open its doors in 2014 to better serve the needs of the Antelope Valley.