Long Beach Economic & Property Development Department staff plan to bring potential options for the future operation of Community Hospital to the city council within four to six weeks. John Keisler, director of the department, told the city council during a special study session about the hospital on April 3 that the city was in the midst of a process to engage potential future hospital operators about options for continuing emergency care operations and bringing the facility into compliance with state seismic code.
This heat map of Community Hospital illustrates which areas of the facility are prone to the most damage in an earthquake, with red being the most dangerous areas and green being the safest. The lines represent the parameters of the fault line that runs beneath the hospital, which is located at 1720 Termino Ave. Ratings are based upon state seismic regulations. (Image provided by the City of Long Beach)
The hospital’s current operator, MemorialCare Health System, is slated to relinquish the lease to the site on July 3. It announced late last year that, due to noncompliance with state seismic requirements, it would be unable to operate the hospital past June 30, 2019. However, MemorialCare issued a lease termination notification to the city in February, pushing up its exit as the hospital’s operator. It is the health system’s position that it cannot bring the hospital into compliance.
As Diana Tang, the city’s manager of government affairs, explained during the study session, while the hospital’s emergency department is designated by the state as seismically safe, other seismically unsafe portions of the hospital house care services required of any hospital operating an emergency department. Without these departments, which include radiology, pharmaceutical services and more, the state would not allow an emergency department to operate on the site.
The city, however, contends that there are options for bringing the hospital into compliance and maintaining emergency services either by relocating required departments to other areas of the facility, or through seismic retrofitting, Keisler explained.
“We have engaged with a health care management expert to represent the city in a request for information process which involves targeted interviews with approximately eight to 10 hospitals or hospital providers that have both the financial capability and operational history of operating a facility of this sort,” Keisler told the council. “Our goal will be, through these targeted interviews, to whittle down the list to two or three legitimate proposals for the city council to consider, hopefully within the next four to six weeks.”
Tang clarified that the city’s jurisdiction over the hospital is limited to its role as a property manager via its lease agreement for the site. The city does not have control over emergency management services protocol, which is within the county’s purview.
Councilmembers and other elected officials such as Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell have been outspoken about MemorialCare’s early shutdown of hospital operations, as well as of the decision by the county to divert ambulances carrying advanced life support patients to other hospitals. Tang listed off numerous steps MemorialCare has taken to compensate for these diversions, including by increasing the number of observation beds at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center. During the meeting, Long Beach Fire Chief Mike DuRee said that MemorialCare has been doing what they can to ease the burden caused by Community’s impending closure.
Mayor Robert Garcia said that the city continues to be disappointed in the process MemorialCare has taken to exit as the operator of the hospital. “I also want to make it clear that we are 100% committed to a hospital and ER on that site. Period,” he said.
The day prior to the study session, MemorialCare issued 60-day layoff notices to 37 hospital employees. The mayor and several councilmembers expressed concerns about the workforce of Community Hospital and asked what the city could do to provide career services and to encourage a new hospital operator to retain employees. “We have a responsibility to the folks who have been taking care of our city for so long to ensure that they have jobs and security for their families,” Garcia said. “I think that needs to be the second important piece of what comes back in these [next] four to six weeks.”
Nick Schultz, executive director of Pacific Gateway, the workforce development arm of the city, said that he and his staff are working with MemorialCare and that it was his understanding that “a certain percentage” of Community Hospital staff would be transferred to Long Beach Medical Center. He said Pacific Gateway is pursuing a national emergency grant through the U.S. Department of Labor to provide one-on-one career services to affected Community Hospital employees.
In order to retain emergency care services at the site, the hospital would have to be granted a temporary exemption to state seismic requirements by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, Tang explained. An extension could be passed via state legislation – O’Donnell has introduced a bill to the assembly that seeks a five-year extension to allow the hospital to be brought into compliance. The first hearing for that bill should take place in the assembly’s health committee on either April 17 or 24, Tang said.