Ever-evolving to meet new needs, St. Mary in Southern California marks centennial

August 15, 2023
A hospital staff member prepares an emergency room at Dignity Health — St. Mary Medical Center in 1937. That was the year the rebuilt Long Beach, California, hospital reopened after it had been destroyed in an earthquake.

Dignity Health – St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California, is celebrating its centennial. The facility's history includes an earthquake that once destroyed the hospital and the development of programming to help community members in need, including residents of Cambodian descent.

When it opened on August 26, 1923, St. Mary was the state's first Catholic hospital south of Los Angeles. The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word built the 70-bed hospital at a cost of about $160,000, and it included an emergency room, laboratory, pharmacy and operating room.

Just a decade after the hospital opened, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake destroyed the facility as well as the sisters' convent and a chapel. With the assistance of the chairman of Hancock Oil, the sisters rebuilt the campus. It reopened in 1937.

Dignity Health — St. Mary Medical Center, at its 1923 grand opening.

The hospital has undergone multiple expansions, including a 1949 addition that doubled its capacity and a 1974 update that transitioned the facility to all private patient rooms and expanded the emergency department.

St. Mary currently has 360 beds. It is a Level II trauma center and it has a cardiac and vascular center, certified comprehensive stroke center, surgical weight loss center and maternity department. The facility now is part of CommonSpirit Health's Dignity Health.

Present-day Dignity Health — St. Mary Medical Center of Long Beach.

According to estimates from St. Mary, the hospital has provided services to 13% of Long Beach community members. Long Beach has a population of over 456,000. About 70% of St. Mary's patient population is uninsured or is insured under MediCal, the state's Medicaid program.

St. Mary established a clinic in 1986 that provides comprehensive care, social services, a food bank and other services to people with HIV. At the time the hospital opened this CARE Center, many hospitals were refusing to provide care to patients with HIV, according to St. Mary.

The hospital offers Families in Good Health, a multicultural health and social services program designed to meet the socioeconomic and wellness needs of people of Cambodian descent. That program served more than 8,000 people last year.

The hospital's centennial celebration began in April with a kickoff event at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. The observances will continue with a festival Mass and picnic, a luncheon to honor the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, a birthday party that will be free to Long Beach community members as well as an end-of-the-year centennial ball.

St. Mary President and CEO Carolyn Caldwell said in a release that the centennial calls to mind "the strength and courage of our founding sisters." She expressed hope that "St. Mary's healing ministry will continue to thrive for another 100 years as it meets the growing health care needs of our community."

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