After series of setbacks, Community Hospital could reopen this month

As hospitalizations surge due to coronavirus, Long Beach Community Hospital could reopen as soon as this month as a final state inspection is expected to be carried out in the coming days.

The final inspection, currently scheduled for the week of Dec. 14, could be the last step in an over year-long process to reopen the East Long Beach facility. The city has already approved a long-term lease with the hospital’s new operators and planning for seismic retrofits is underway.

Community Hospital officially closed in July 2018 after state regulators deemed it unsafe to operate due to its location on a fault line. The previous operator, MemorialCare Health System, opted not to renew its license for the facility.

The new operators of Community Hospital said that they would push for a sooner inspection date as the coronavirus pandemic continues to push local hospitals toward capacity.

Long Beach hospitals have seen a surge of new COVID-19 patients of over 360% since Nov. 1, a figure that’s expected to increase as Los Angeles County continues to report daily records for positive cases.

“Seeing how the pandemic is increasing in spread, we’re trying to move it up sooner,” said John Molina, a co-founder of Molina-Wu Network, the current operator of the hospital.

Molina said that if the hospital passes the inspection it could open the next day. Physicians and nurses are already staffed, but his group would work with local workforce development agencies to fill out the hospital’s staffing needs.

While the emergency room would remain closed upon the hospital’s immediate reopening, Molina said that it has the capacity to roll out 21 intensive care unit beds, and according to the original license for Community Hospital, is able to take in over 130 total patients.

“The number of [COVID-19] cases is going up quite a bit and we can bring an awful lot of beds online,” Molina said.

Community Hospital was originally a critical part of the city’s plan in response to the coronavirus pandemic last spring. The hospital, along with the Long Beach Convention Center and a Navy hospital ship, were prepared to deal with an anticipated overflow of patients brought on by a surge of hospitalizations.

Mayor Robert Garcia, who has pleaded with residents to stop interacting with people outside of their households to help local hospitals maintain open patient beds, said he wants the hospital open but did not say if it would serve as overflow space for patients once it does.

“We want Community Hospital open as soon as possible,” Garcia said in a statement Thursday. “We are hopeful that they will pass their final inspection and that this important facility will open for the public.”

A city spokesperson said Thursday that while Community Hospital was looked at in the Spring as an alternate care site the region is now looking to open Fairview Medical Center in Costa Mesa for that purpose.

With the final inspection date nearing for Community Hospital, city leaders remain cautiously optimistic that this time the date will stick. A previously scheduled inspection for last month fell through, adding to list of inspection and opening dates that have come and passed for the hospital.

Councilman Daryl Supernaw, who represents a portions of East and Central Long Beach which includes Community, said the city has been preparing for this day and they “know how close it is.”

Earlier this year he allocated $250,000 of funds not spent on staffing his council office to help repair elevators at the facility in an effort to aid its reopening.

“We really appreciate the public’s patience in this process,” Supernaw said. “We realize it’s taken an incredibly long time but we’re incredibly grateful for the state agencies who worked through this process with us.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the seismic retrofits for Community Hospital have not been completed, but planning is underway. The story has also been updated with a statement from the city about the region looking to a site in Costa Mesa as an alternate care site. 

Editor’s note: John Molina is the primary investor in the parent company that owns the Long Beach Post.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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