Responding to the latest letter from the City of Long Beach urging MemorialCare Health System’s Board of Directors to ensure the organization continues operating Community Hospital beyond its scheduled closure date of July 3, the hospital’s CEO, John Bishop, told the Business Journal that he has the support of the board in going ahead with the closure. He also disputed numerous points made in the letter issued late today – which was signed by Mayor Robert Garcia, 4th District Councilmember Daryl Supernaw and City Manager Patrick West – that he had misrepresented the facts when asserting that the state had determined a seismic retrofit of the hospital would be infeasible.
“They understand the challenges that we’ve had in maintaining viable operations because of all the staff resignations,” Bishop, who is also CEO of MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center and Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, said. Last Friday, Bishop told the Business Journal that the initially estimated closure date of June 30, 2019, due to noncompliance with state seismic requirements was moved up to July 3 because more than one-third of the hospital staff had quit.
“When we first made the announcement back in early November, I apprised the city of this: that even though the ability to operate under seismic law went through 6/30/19, it was very unlikely that we would be able to operate that long because in these types of situations the employees leave,” Bishop said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
In their letter, city officials asked that Bishop correct his earlier assertion that the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) had confirmed that a seismic retrofit of the site would not be feasible, arguing that OSHPD does not issue such formal decisions “until construction plans have been submitted.” MemorialCare did not submit such plans.
Bishop said that he had received written confirmation from OSHPD that was in agreement with MemorialCare’s assessment about the infeasibility of moving forward with a retrofit of the hospital. He provided a letter he sent to Gordon Oakley, deputy division chief of OSHPD, outlining a conversation he and MemorialCare staff had with Oakley in which both parties “agreed that given all of these circumstances, CHLB cannot reasonably continue to operate as an acute care hospital in light of current seismic requirements for such facilities.” Bishop ended the letter by remarking, “I trust that this summary of the meeting on June 15 is consistent with your recollection of our discussions. Please let me know if that is not the case so that any misunderstandings can be resolved.”
MemorialCare provided Oakley’s e-mailed response, which stated: “The attached letter correctly summarizes our meeting from June 15th, 2017, and captures succinctly the issues with the site specifics and the limitations placed on the future use of this site with regards to Senate Bills, 1953 and 90.” These bills relate to seismic and safety requirements for hospitals.
“We never submitted plans that could be approved because none could be created,” Bishop said. “OSHPD agreed that it was not feasible.”
Bishop pointed out that city staff and the potential new operator being discussed at tonight’s Long Beach City Council meeting are betting on a plan to grandfather in a portion of the existing hospital structure that was deemed seismically sound under previous standards, and plan to reconfigure operations within that area. “If the hospital closes and then they have to reopen it and get a new license, then it would be significantly more expensive because everything would have to come up to current code rather than being grandfathered in like it is currently,” Bishop noted.
Asked to respond to city officials’ assertion that Bishop was incorrect in his reasoning for closing the hospital on July 3 he said: “We have been very transparent with the city this entire time. We gave them the seismic reports back in June of 2017. And I spent significant time with almost all the elected officials, including the city manager’s office, educating them in December and January as to why we would not be able to stay open until June 30, 2019. And I implored them to reach a decision so we could do a handoff to get the necessary regulatory approvals. We recommended behavioral health [as a future use for the hospital] at the time. They declined that in the middle of February. And they are now, two weeks prior to closure, asking us to try and come and do a new management agreement, and there simply is just not nearly enough time. When we assumed operations in 2011, it took roughly 10 months for us to get all the necessary approvals. So clearly two weeks is not enough time.”
He added, “We’re sorry that we’re at this point. We wish that we had a different answer, but unfortunately, the facility is located on a large active fault and we were never put in a position where we were able to come up with a viable plan to transition the facility because there was simply no offer that was out there, no one to work with. And at this point, it’s simply too late.”