Long Beach officials are considering incentives and strategies to expand access to urgent care facilities in underserved communities, particularly North and West Long Beach.
In a Feb. 3 memo, Long Beach Development Services Director Linda Tatum explained that people in areas with limited access to acute care facilities often turn to emergency rooms for non-life-threatening medical care. The result is long wait times at overburdened emergency rooms.
City staff research indicates a lack of urgent care facilities in underserved communities is mostly the result of factors outside of the city’s control, such as financial performance and operating costs. The most significant factor in determining where to open an urgent care facility, according to the memo, is the number of customers with high-reimbursement rate private insurance in the area – low-income communities tend to have higher rates of uninsured.
However, some land-use hurdles do exist, according to healthcare providers.
A spokeswoman for MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center said a number of factors must be considered when determining where to open new medical facilities, including parking, space availability for an office building or retail center and financial viability—including lease and tenant improvement costs.
“As we evaluate areas in Long Beach, we are also balancing the need for traditional physical sites to access healthcare while investing in other models, like virtual care, that can be accessed affordably from the convenience of home or work,” said Richele Craveiro Steele of MemorialCare.
The first incentive outlined in the city memo is streamlining the process of opening an urgent care or similar medical facility by amending zoning codes, which dictate what can be built where. Currently, urgent care facilities are not allowed in commercial districts, which means they require special permission to be built. A change to city code defining urgent care use in commercial zones would remove these special permit requirements.
Parking requirements are another challenge. Office and retail uses require four parking stalls per 1,000 square feet of space, while medical requires five stalls for the same square footage. Changing the use of a 2,500-square-foot storefront from retail to medical requires additional parking, which is sometimes impossible in areas that have been built out for decades, according to city staff. The memo states that parking exemptions and reductions could be scaled depending on the size of the facility and its proximity to public transportation.
Other strategies to encourage the introduction of medical care in underserved communities include a floor ratio bonus for developers to include urgent care facilities in larger developments, ombudsman services, and marketing and outreach through the city’s economic development and development services departments.
The parking requirements and other land-use incentives will be included in the draft UPLAN study and zoning ordinance for North Long Beach that the planning commission will consider in the next few months. Development services staff will consider implementing these incentives and strategies citywide in a zoning code update later this year.
The effort by the city was spurred by Councilman Rex Richardson, who said his office conducted a study on the gaps in access to urgent care.
“Every community deserves access to healthcare. Unfortunately, we know that there are significant gaps in certain communities in Long Beach,” said Richardson, who represents North Long Beach. “That’s why we partnered to explore incentives to improve access to urgent care and medical facilities across our city, and I’m encouraged by the progress by our city team.”