After years of effort from city officials and the surrounding community to reopen Community Hospital Long Beach, operator Molina Wu Network has announced the emergency department will no longer accept ambulance dispatches beginning tomorrow morning. The department will fully, permanently close one week later.

“CHLB staff is working with area hospitals to ensure residents have access to emergency care services,” MWN’s Tuesday announcement said.

MWN consulted with the California Department of Public Health and the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency and decided to stop receiving 911 ambulance dispatches tomorrow at 8 a.m. On Nov. 24, the ER will close permanently to walk-ins and visitors at 8 a.m.

The emergency room closure will precede the shutdown of other acute care services. According to an unreleased transition plan obtained by the Long Beach Post, the facility will work to discharge all patients beginning Nov. 24, including those in the intensive care unit and medical-surgical telemetry department. Patients who will not be ready to be discharged by Dec. 3 will be transferred to other facilities, the plan states.

Staffing is sufficient to cover current patient levels in those departments, according to the document, but Tuesday’s announcement states multiple nurse registry staffing agencies intend to stop providing services to Community Hospital this month. In September, then-Chief Clinical Officer Gewn Ocampo said the hospital operates with anywhere between 30% to 60% supplemental, or traveling, nurses.

Ocampo has since been named CEO of the facility.

In a revised statement following Tuesday’s announcement, city officials said the ER closure is “regrettable” but acknowledged its continued operation is not feasible given the circumstances.

Tuesday’s announcement comes less than two weeks after the operator announced it would be transitioning the facility away from emergency and acute care, opting for a model focused on wellness and mental health under a new moniker: the Long Beach Community Wellness Center. The shift in services is in large part due to the ballooning cost for necessary seismic retrofits from around $40 million to $75 million, according to MWN.

Other unexpected expenses, including the increased cost of supplemental nurses due to a national shortage and demand for personal protective equipment, have made the operation of acute and emergency care more challenging, according to the company. Additionally, patient volumes are far below what was anticipated.

Of MWN’s 328 employees, a “handful” quit following the Nov. 4 announcement. All employees were served Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications (WARN), according to a hospital spokesperson. Per the WARN Act, the U.S. Department of Labor requires employers to notify workers 60 days ahead of layoffs or business closures, allowing them time to find new employment.

For MWN employees, it remains unclear how many will actually be laid off, a hospital spokesperson said. As the facility is transitioned, the number of employees required will become more clear, they said. Regardless, MWN will have fewer staff, they added, because outside vendors will bring in staff of their own.

A hospital spokesperson did say MWN expects additional staff to “seek new opportunities” as the transition continues, adding that the company is hosting a career fair for affected employees as well as other assistance programs.

Outpatient surgery, endoscopy, diagnostics, rehab and cardiology are expected to continue under the facility’s current state-issued acute care license through April 2022, at which point the operator would seek an outpatient services license.

The Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation board of directors, meanwhile, said in a Nov. 10 statement—six days after MWN announced its plans for the hospital—the group was “surprised and saddened” by the news.

“This is not the result that we were seeking for our community and we will continue to do everything in our power to find a way forward to serve the healthcare needs of our residents,” the statement read.

“You still have an opportunity to express your concerns about losing acute care and emergency services at CHLB,” the board continued, noting that the City Council must vote to approve any amendments to its lease agreement with MWN. “This loss will impact paramedic response times and increase wait times in the two remaining emergency rooms in Long Beach.”

The board stated the new lease agreement would likely come to the council at its Dec. 7 meeting. City officials declined to comment on the original announcement, citing ongoing negotiations with MWN.

For its part, MWN claims the emergency and acute care needs are not as dire as officials and residents had suggested during the campaign to reopen the hospital.

“On average, less than 5% of cases in the CHLB emergency department need emergency intervention,” MWN said in its announcement Tuesday, “with the rest likely able to be handled in a lower acuity facility, such as an urgent care center.”

Before MemorialCare closed Community Hospital in summer 2018, the emergency department averaged 90 patient visits each day, MWN said earlier this month. Since reopening on May 12 and restarting ambulance services less than two weeks later, the department has averaged fewer than 24 patients per day with only one or two requiring emergency care.

Inpatient psychiatric services will continue under the hospital’s current license until MWN partners with a psychiatric provider that will have its own California Department of Health Care Services certification as a psychiatric health facility, according to the unpublished transition plan.

“There is clearly a great need for these services in Long Beach, and Community Hospital would retain its medical uses under this proposal,” the city said in its statement.

After the transition is complete, the wellness campus also will continue offering behavioral and mental health services, urgent care and other medical and social programs through various partnerships with outside operators. No partners have been announced at this time.

The transition falls in line with a recent City Council agenda item that asked city staff to “explore the feasibility of establishing a more robust infrastructure for mental health services in collaboration and alignment with local mental health providers” in the city. Agendized by 9th District Councilman Rex Richardson, the item was unanimously approved with 5th District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo absent.

The goals of the item are to increase access to mental health services, increase funding for mental health services and localize and improve response and connection services, among other things. According to the item, the city saw over 1,000 more mental health-related 911 calls in 2020 compared to 2019.

“As a nurse myself, my commitment along with the rest of our team is to ensure that each person entrusted to us is cared for as we would want for our own family,” Ocampo said in a Tuesday statement. “We look forward to continuing to serve the healthcare needs of this community in a new expanded model for health and wellness.”

Editor’s note: John Molina of Molina, Wu, Network is the primary investor in the parent company that owns the Long Beach Post and Business Journal. Read more about the Post’s ownership here.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from city officials.