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The White Plague in the City of Angels

Caroline Luce, Author

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Kaspare Cohn Hospital Moves to Boyle Heights, 1910

The mission of Kaspare Cohn Hospital to provide treatment, and even a cure, for the city’s tuberculars contradicted directly with the focus of the city’s public health responses to the disease. The conflict between the policy demands of public health and the hospital’s efforts to treat tuberculosis came to a head quickly. Like some of the leaders of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, members of the city government believed their primary goal was to stop the flood of tuberculosis victims from coming to the city. Kaspare Cohn's Hospital and other similar efforts were viewed with contempt, seen as making the tuberculosis problem worse by attracting tuberculars, not as an attempt to make it better.

In 1904, the City Council passed a law “prohibiting the treatment of consumptives in public institutions within the city limits.” While the number of tuberculars seeking care at the hospital had steadily increased over its first two years, the hospital was forced to change its focus and its admissions policies to exclude those with tuberculosis. The facility shifted its specialities to surgical and maternity cases, recruiting gynecologist Dr. Sarah Vasen, the city's first female Jewish doctor, to serve as superintendent. But the hospital’s namesake and benefactor, Kaspare Cohn, was not satisfied.

In 1909, Cohn began scouting new locations for the hospital outside of the city limits so that he could “furnish a place for the care of the poor Jewish consumptives.” Cohn and other supporters of the hospital wanted “to erect a modern hospital which [could] care for all classes of patients,” and began soliciting donations. [9] They purchased a twenty-acre lot at 3942 Stephenson Avenue (now known as Whittier Boulevard) in Boyle Heights, an area where the Jewish population had been steadily increasing since the turn of the century. The lot straddled the avenue, with ten acres on the north side of the street and ten on the south side, allowing them to build both a large facility with 50 beds for their patients as well as a special, smaller ward for tuberculosis patients. The Janss Investment Company showed its support for the hospital by providing gas and electricity to the new facility. The new Kaspare Cohn hospital opened in 1910, dedicated by Rabbis Sigmund Hecht of Congregation B’nai B’rith and Isidore Myers of Sinai Temple.

The medical staff at the new facility was composed of several local Jewish physicians who volunteered their services - including Drs. David W. Edelman, Philip Newmark, Edmond Lazard, Aldolph Tyroler, Morris A. Frank, Leo Blass, Jacob C. Solomon, and Henry H. Lissner - who rotated in two- and three-month shifts of active service at the hospital. But the bulk of the work at the hospital – clinical and otherwise – was performed by a series of female administrators and nurses, led by Dr. Vasen.
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