Long Beach Memorial Medical Center Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

MemorialCare had a turbulent year in Long Beach that saw state investigations and an unexpected leadership shake-up, all while staff dealt with sporadic surges of numerous diseases.

Hospital staff at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, and throughout the Greater Long Beach area, began the year with the most dramatic surge in coronavirus cases to date. With 44,316 new daily cases reported, January of this year accounts for over 28% of the city’s total reported cases of COVID-19 through mid-December.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID, as well as the number of deaths, also rose at the start of the year but did not come close to the highs of January 2021, which was the deadliest time for the city during the pandemic.

On April 15, Memorial reported no coronavirus patients for the first time in two years.

In February and March, however, a series of lapses in patient care resulted in the deaths of two patients, leading to a string of investigations into operations at MemorialCare’s Long Beach campus.

California Department of Public Health inspectors spent nine days at the hospital—April 12 to April 20—in response to a complaint from Long Beach resident Rosemary Davis, 60, who said her mother died at the hospital due to poor patient care. Inspectors identified a list of issues at Memorial, including two immediate jeopardy cases.

Davis claimed that hospital staff administered a chemotherapy drug often used for breast cancer patients to her mother, who was admitted for heart-related health issues, among other alleged lapses in her care.

Ultimately, Davis’ mother suffered an infection, which turned to septic shock. She died in February.

The very next month, the second immediate jeopardy incident occurred when a person with dementia was admitted after falling at their assisted living facility. The elderly patient fell again at the hospital while attempting to walk unassisted, despite being classified as a “high fall risk.”

The second fall fractured the patient’s hip and an orthopedic surgeon recommended a surgery that was admittedly risky but no more so than doing nothing, the CDPH report found. No surgery was performed and the patient was placed in “end of life care.” They died on March 19.

The state report led to a series of other probes by the Joint Commission, the California State Board of Pharmacy, the state Board of Registered Nursing and the state Medical Board.

Less than two weeks after the Southern California News Group reported on the deaths and initial investigation, Memorial CEO John Bishop and Chief Operating Officer Ike Mmeje unexpectedly resigned. Hospital officials declined to comment on whether there was a connection between the two events.

Mmeje left the position in August, while Bishop stayed on through the search for his replacement.

The year wasn’t all trouble for Memorial, however. In October, Memorial announced it restructured its leadership team, creating new positions as the search for a new CEO continued. New positions included a chief nursing executive, a chief strategy officer and a dedicated chief executive for Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital.

Finally, after an extensive four-month search, the hospital announced this month that Blair Kent would be the next CEO of the campus. Kent most recently served as CEO of Intermountain Medical Center near Salt Lake City—the largest hospital in Utah.

The health provider also expanded services this year, including its Long Beach maternal care offerings with a new location at 5977 Spring St. The site has eight exam rooms, lab services and two OB-GYNs. It began accepting patients in October.

The hospital also announced it would open a clinic on the Cal State Long Beach campus through a new partnership to combine education with practice and increase the area’s health care workforce. The 15,000-square-foot clinic will be located on the ground floor of a new College of Health and Human Services building, with construction slated to begin in summer 2024.

Now, as the year comes to a close, hospital staff is working through yet another surge of COVID-19. While the disease is not spreading anywhere near the levels seen at the beginning of the year, outbreaks of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus also are much higher than usual.

Dr. Graham Tse, physician-in-charge of COVID at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and chief medical officer at Miller Children’s and Women’s, said the three diseases have created a “triple-demic.” Tse said the number of hospitalizations due to the flu is at a 10-year high.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.