As Closure Looms, City Works Toward Long-Term Solution For Community Hospital

Potential answers to the long-term plan for Community Hospital Long Beach could be weeks away as the city works to keep hospital services ongoing at the site that MemorialCare, its current operator, says is not feasible due to seismic deficiencies.

In an update to the ongoing efforts to keep the hospital open, the Long Beach City Council held a study session Tuesday to publicly discuss the processes being explored to keep it operational. MemorialCare announced last year that it intended to shutter the site because of its location on top of an active fault line, and earlier this year gave notice that that date would come in July 2018.

John Keisler, the city’s director of economic and property development, said the city council could be provided with some potential solutions in as little as four to six weeks, as the city staff has already began the process of reaching out to potential replacement operators.

“We’re still working with this notion that we want to limit any closure or transition time between operators so our goal is to work as quickly as possible to provide these solutions to the city council and for the community,” Keisler said.

LA County Officials Call on State to Extend Seismic Retrofit Deadline for Community Hospital

An assessment presented by MemorialCare and confirmed by an independent investigation by the city shows that much of the city-owned property near the Traffic Circle on which the hospital sits is on top of an active fault line. In the event of a major earthquake much of the northern and eastern flanks of the property could sustain significant damage, including possible collapse, and could inhibit the hospital’s ability to provide continued service.

Diana Tang, manager of Government Affairs for the city, said that according to state law, all acute care hospitals are required to sustain eight basic services including medical, nursing, surgical, anesthesia, laboratory, pharmaceutical and dietary services. According to a map shared during the presentation Tuesday some of Community’s services that fall into those categories are in areas deemed a significant risk and would need to be moved or retrofitted to meet state standards. In March, the city was joined by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell in lobbying for an extension for Community to meet state seismic standards. Assembly Bill 2591, sponsored by O’Donnell, would push the deadline back from June 2019 to 2025.

A map included in a staff presentation to the city council shows which areas of the hospital are currently most at risk of being damaged during an earthquake. 

The county has scheduled a hearing on the hospital’s closure set for April 11 at The Grand Long Beach Event Center starting at 6:00PM.

The city is working with consultants who are part of the team that helped the Tarzana Medical Center get an extension from the state to meet seismic standards. The hospital was granted an extension until October 2022 but Tang pointed out that while the Tarzana facility is out of compliance due to building age, Community faces age and issues dealing with its location on top of an active fault line.

As it stands, Memorial is on schedule to stop hospital services at Community on July 3. It has expressed to the city that it will renew the application for the site to remain an acute care facility—the city has no ability to apply on its own—as the city seeks out a new operator.

But as the process unfolds other entities like the county’s local emergency services agency have taken steps like diverting all advanced life support calls to other hospitals, something that has frustrated city officials as they try to keep those services open to East Long Beach residents and lessen the load on other area hospitals like Long Beach Memorial.

“I want folks to understand that the city is completely in and understands that this is a very frustrating situation,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “It’s been communicated to Memorial that we were extremely disappointed in the way that this transition away from receiving emergency services was to us as a city and we’ve continued to make that very public.

And we’ve continued to be disappointed in just the process, we want this to have been a collaboration and obviously for us in Long Beach it’s important for us to have an emergency room on that site and a hospital on that site.”

With Fault Line Threatening Future of Community Hospital, Legislators Pledge to Find A Solution

When the hospital does close it could leave some employees without jobs which the city said it will take steps to limit those impacts. This could include working in an agreement with a future operator that would include absorbing the employees displaced by Community’s closing through a local hire clause.

Earlier this week John Bishop, CEO of Community, said that 37 employees were receiving 60-day notices of termination which represents about 10 percent of the workforce.

Dr. Mike Vasilomanolakis, director of cardiology at Community, said that the hospital has gotten progressively busier over the years and has seen an increase in demand for its emergency rooms. He advocated for someone to take over the site which provides convenient and important access to a large number of homes on the city’s east side.

“Community is a vital hospital with a critically important emergency room,” Vasilomanolakis said. This hospital will thrive, all it needs is an operator that believes in it and supports it.

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