discoveries magazine

A Tale of Two Pandemics: A Look Back

A historical photo of nurses from 1902 at Kaspare Cohn Hospital in Los Angeles.

Nursing staff at Kaspare Cohn Hospital, a precursor to Cedars-Sinai that was founded in 1902.

The COVID-19 pandemic inevitably draws comparisons to the last global viral scourge: the flu pandemic of 1918. Cedars-Sinai's predecessors, Mt. Sinai Hospital and Kaspare Cohn Hospital, were both transformed by that virus.

Kaspare Cohn Hospital, then just 16 years old, was hit hard. Wards were filled to capacity and staff members were pushed past the point of exhaustion.

The hospital was forced to temporarily suspend operations following the deaths of its superintendent and several nurses. It reopened just a few days later, and stayed open until it moved to a larger location with a new name: Cedars of Lebanon.

Meanwhile, a modest hospice in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles, founded independently by the Bikur Cholim Society for victims of the 1918 flu, would become Mt. Sinai Hospital. The charitable organization began by sheltering one needy patient in a two-room bungalow during the pandemic. Less than a year later, the group was laying the groundwork to build a hospital.

Fast-forward a century and Cedars- Sinai is caring for the sickest COVID-19 patients in the region. As of December 2020, Cedars-Sinai had treated more than 2,000 patients for the disease and made grants of over $10 million to support COVID-19 response in Southern California.