An alum takes over a large safety-net hospital just as the world falls apart.
As a public safety-net hospital in a sprawling metropolis, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center primarily treats the underserved. But as the sole level 1 trauma center for southern Los Angeles, it also serves any victim of violence or accidents, including the rich and famous.
Last February, one such patient was Tiger Woods, who suffered extensive leg and ankle injuries in a car crash.
“Mr. Woods was brought here as he should have been,” says Anish Mahajan ’96 MD’03, MS, MPH, the hospital’s CEO/CMO. “We cared for him at a large public hospital for the poor. It says something about the resources of public hospitals. They are dwindling in number because they are expensive to run, but they play a critical role in serving those Americans depending on Medicaid and all Americans needing lifesaving trauma services.”
Leading a major public teaching hospital has returned Mahajan to his med school roots. He grew up in Poughkeepsie, NY, and studied politics, public policy, and social inequality as a PLME. “Those things enriched my notions of what I would want to do in my medical career,” he says. “It very much informed my path in medicine.”
At the Medical School, Mahajan worked with infectious diseases faculty Timothy Flanigan, MD, Kenneth Mayer, MD, and the late Charles C. J. Carpenter, MD. A handful of years caring for patients affected by HIV in southern India gave Mahajan a feel for providing the best care with limited resources.
“Flanigan, Mayer, and Carpenter not only taught me how to do global research, I learned about collaborating, building partnerships, and building communities,” Mahajan says.
“Anish led the way,” Flanigan says. “He was extraordinary. The leadership role he is playing now is phenomenal. Teaching him was a wonderful experience. That keeps us going as educators.”
After graduation, Mahajan completed his internal medicine residency and was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at UCLA. Following a year as a White House Fellow, he served as a special adviser on health policy in the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget. He returned to Los Angeles after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
“The law had passed. Now we had to implement it and improve health care delivery,” he says. “It gave me a chance to reimagine delivery of health care for the uninsured.”
Mahajan helped make that happen as director of system planning, improvement, and data analytics for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. In 2016 he became chief medical officer at Harbor-UCLA; four years later, in the middle of the pandemic, he was tapped as interim CEO.
“We did not have a vaccine for COVID,” Mahajan says. “People needed hospitalization. It was stressful on the system in LA. In January  we had the highest rates of COVID hospitalizations anywhere in the country. I had a trial by fire and became the permanent CEO” in May.
Many of Mahajan’s life-altering experiences started at Brown. He met and married a graduate student in the Department of English, Yogita Goyal ’00 PhD’03. Her appointment at UCLA first prompted him to make the move to the West Coast. But Brown is with him wherever he goes.
“There is something special the medical school experience instilled in me and my colleagues,” Mahajan says. “As I have gone through my career from Brown to the White House to UCLA, there is a real kinship with fellow Brown grads. The values we bring to our careers are how we want to impact the world.”