Kathy Chin Leong
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
On April 18, 2016, the new Chinatown Hospital doors opened to wild applause after two decades of planning, fundraising, and construction. The eight-story Patient Tower represented a victory on many levels. To visionaries and activists, the achievement again proved Chinatown’s ability to persevere and care for its own residents. To management experts and construction teams, the $180 million private hospital was a textbook example of how to keep a project within budget and on time.
With one-third coming from bond money, and two-thirds from private contributions and hospital reserves, the non-profit, state-of-the-art facility is nicknamed “the people’s hospital,” for it was primarily funded by the community. The majority of clientele are seniors and immigrants. During fund raising, Chinese elderly would tuck in $1, $5, and $10 bills into the donation boxes, sacrificing half of their meal money. The late Chinatown activist Rose Pak made fundraising for the hospital one of her chief causes, and she made sure political leaders and those with deep pockets donated generously.
The institution is the only Chinese hospital in the nation with mostly bilingual Chinese-speaking staff. The culturally-sensitive programs, services, and décor are designed to aid patient comfort. The cafeteria serves meals that can include Chinese broth or rice porridge. Photos of the old hospital and supporters harken to its historic roots as Tung Wah Dispensary founded in 1899. At that time, the Chinese were turned away if they sought help from Western doctors outside the quarters. The interiors also feature motifs with colors and symbols that signify long life and prosperity. The tiles inscribed with donor names make up a colorful dragon and phoenix on the building exterior.
Today, the hospital provides satellite clinics offering Eastern modalities such as cupping and acupuncture. The hospital operates East West Health Services with its newest facility on Grant Avenue. Among the more unusual services is the use of ear seeds where the practitioner tapes the seeds of the Vaccaria plant to stimulate certain parts of the ear. This is conducted in lieu of (or in conjunction) with acupuncture.