The first Chinese people to San Francisco were forced to settle in Chinatown. Isolated from the rest of the city, they did not have access to the services provided by San Francisco institutions. Schools and hospitals were not open to the Chinese people for decades. Even during the bubonic plague outbreak at the turn of the century, the city’s health department quarantined Chinatown rather than open health facilities to afflicted Chinese. The only facility available that practiced western medicine was the Tung Wah Dispensary-a dispensary staffed by Christian missionaries.
Built in 1925 to replace the Tung Wah Dispensary, after it was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, the Chinese Hospital gave the Chinese population a convenient option to the distant San Francisco General Hospital. The San Francisco Chinese Hospital the first and only Chinese hospital in America. Fifteen Chinese service organizations, including the Chinese Christian Union and the Chinese Democratic Constitutionalist Party, came together and raised funds for the original building. Today, they each continue to elect a representative to the hospital's board; the only new board position, added in the 1980s, is for a member of the medical staff.
In focusing on the Chinese community, many people held low income jobs working in small businesses - businesses that insurance companies did not find profitable to insure. With the help of Blue Shield of California, Chinese Community Health Plan formed in 1982 as an alternative HMO for patients who wanted to continue receiving care within the Chinese health system. The health plan, now independently owned by the hospital, obtained a Knox-Keene license in 1987 so it could offer affordable insurance plans to small businesses within the community. Today, the Chinese Community Health Plan has over 14,000 members and is involved in administration of an additional 7,000 members in Medi-Cal, Medicare and commercial programs.