After MemorialCare Health System submitted a 120-day notice of lease termination to the City of Long Beach for its Community Medical Center at 1720 Termino Ave., elected officials and city staff have been trying to find a way to keep the hospital open. The lease agreement between the city and the hospital is slated to terminate on July 3.
MemorialCare has stated in writing, both in public statements and in letters to the city, that the announcement it made late last year regarding the hospital’s impending closure in June 2019 due to noncompliance with state seismic regulations has resulted in a significant loss of staff members who have moved on to other opportunities.
By late February, Community had lost about 80 full time staff members, according to John Bishop, the hospital’s CEO. “We have lost roughly a quarter of the employees thus far since November,” he said. Temporary nursing staff has been brought on to maintain appropriate staffing ratios, he added. Bishop also leads MemorialCare’s Long Beach Medical Center and Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach.
The loss of staff led to the lease termination notice, with the health system arguing that it will not be able to maintain services.
Following the lease termination, the Long Beach Fire Department was informed by MemorialCare on March 7 that ambulances carrying advanced life support (ALS) patients would be diverted away from Community to other hospitals, according to the city’s public affairs officer, Kevin Lee. “This notification was without any prior notification from MemorialCare to city management. A formalized notification was sent out by Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services on March 8, 2018,” he said via e-mail. He referred to the action as “MemorialCare’s decision.”
Richard Tadeo, assistant director of Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), said the decision was made by his department. “The decision to divert ALS patients from the Hospital was made by us, the EMS Agency. We were in close communication with the hospital since Monday (March 5th). We notified the hospital last Thursday that we will begin diversion on Friday morning (March 9th),” he wrote in an e-mail to the Business Journal.
“The city has strongly requested that ALS ambulance service to Community Hospital be reinstated immediately,” Lee said. “A formal letter has been sent to L.A. County EMS informing the county agency of the city’s desire for existing hospital services at Community Hospital to be maintained for as long as state and county laws and regulations allow, and as required per noticing timeframes and procedures.”
Lee said that the city “intends to explore all available options for maintaining a co-located acute and psychiatric care hospital at Community Hospital, while also complying with state seismic requirements.” He continued, “The city’s intent, at this time, is to keep the hospital operating, including emergency services such as accepting ALS patients. If the landlord-lessee relationship that the city and MemorialCare maintain is to end, the city would like to see hospital services, including ALS services, continue.”
A spokesperson for MemorialCare told the Business Journal in a previous interview that Community accepted an average of six ALS patients per day, prior to the diversion.
MemorialCare Health System had proposed applying for a license to transition Community to a psychiatric care facility, an allowable use under state seismic codes, but the city rejected the proposal in February, according to Bishop. He pointed out that a previous community needs assessment by the city’s health department identified mental health care as the community’s greatest unmet need. “But they have to make a decision based upon what their overall constituency wants, not just a purely health care perspective,” he said.
“The city is the landlord and we want to help them find the highest and best use. Unfortunately, now behavioral health has been ruled out,” Bishop said.
As for the city’s next steps, Lee said, “The city is actively identifying opportunities to continue hospital services for the benefit of the community and for the ability of the Long Beach Fire Department to take care of our community more efficiently and effectively.”