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New Saint John’s Opens Doors in Santa Monica

By Jorge Casuso

July 31, 2009 – Fifteen years after the Northridge Earthquake threatened to shut down Saint John’s Health Center, hospital officials on Wednesday unveiled a state-of-the-art facility that can withstand a similar temblor with little or no damage.

Unveiled at a time when other hospitals are being rocked by a turbulent economy, the 285,000-square-foot Howard Keck Center boasts cutting-edge medical technology and a system of “base isolators” that allow the large building to move in all directions, rather than sway, during a major temblor. (“The Last Base Isolator,” November 14, 2006)

The new facility also boasts self-contained systems to generate electricity, store water and treat sewage in the event municipal systems are strained or knocked out during a disaster similar to the one that paralyzed the hospital in 1994.

Sister Marie Madeleine Shonka (middle, with scissors) and CEO Lou Lazatin from Saint John’s Health Center cut the ribbon on the new Howard Keck Center.  (photos courtesy of Saint John's)

“It truly is the last phase of the rebirth of Saint John’s Health Center,” said Lou Lazatin, president and CEO of the hospital. “Amid the devastation of the Northridge Earthquake, the question wasn’t whether to rebuild, but how to rebuild Saint John’s.

“The new Saint John’s stands as a testament to the communal ability to triumph over adversity,” Lazatin said.

Built on the site of the hospital’s oldest structure dating back more than half a century, the Howard Keck Center was made possible by an ambitious capital campaign that raised nearly $400 million.

The largest contributor was billionaire drug developer Patrick Soon-Shiong and his wife, Michele B. Chan. (“Billionaire Gives Saint John’s $35 Million,” January 18, 2007) Other major contributors included the W.M. Keck Foundation, which gave $20 million, and the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation, which donated $15 million.

Facility's four-story atrium

In addition to the earthquake-absorbing base isolators, the $499 million facility boasts a light-filled, four-story atrium and features modern operating rooms, state-of-the-art imaging and diagnostic centers and a comprehensive women's center.

The facility also includes Southern California's newest Emergency Department and one of the nation's leading cancer centers affiliated with the internationally renowned John Wayne Cancer Institute.

“It is going to be absolutely fantastic,” said Peter C.D. Pelikan, M.D., president of the executive committee of the medical staff. “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.

“The earthquake was a lemon,” Pelikan said. “This building is lemonade on a hot summer day.”

“This truly is holy ground, and this is a holy place of healing as we move forward,” said William M. Murray, president and CEO of the Sisters of Leavenworth Health Systems, which includes the hospital.

Nearly 400 workers – including 100 electricians and 100 framers and “dry wallers” – worked on the facility, which was built by McCarthy Building Companies.

Howard Keck Center, exterior

The Howard Keck Center is part of a comprehensive rebuilding plan that includes the Chan Soon-Shiong Center for Life Sciences Building, or North Pavilion, which opened in 2005.

The two building have a combined total of 236 private beds, with the capacity to expand to 268 beds during peak seasons.

Among the patient services featured in the North Pavilion are critical care, labor and delivery, neonatal intensive care, orthopedics, oncology and general medical surgical beds.

Also included are various support services such as the Pharmacy, Laboratory, Food Service and Medical Records. (“Saint John’s Reconstruction Gets Blessing,” September 29, 2004 and “Hospital Dedication Ushers in New Era,” October 11, 2004)

“It truly is the last phase of the rebirth of Saint John’s Health Center.” Lou Lazatin


“When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade." Peter C.D. Pelikan, M.D.

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