Under special order from the governor’s office, Long Beach Community Hospital will temporarily reopen on Saturday and will begin accepting patients transferred from nearby hospitals to help with an anticipated surge in coronavirus cases.
The news comes as officials have warned there will be an increase in cases locally and nationally as more people become infected and testing becomes more widely available. Long Beach on Thursday reported 12 cases, up from 10 on Wednesday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday also announced that he has sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting the immediate deployment of the USNS Mercy Hospital Ship to the Port of Los Angeles through Sept. 1 to help with the state’s response to COVID-19.
Local officials had planned to open the 94-year-old Community Hospital in East Long Beach later this year after it closed in 2018 due to seismic compliance issues, shuttering the area’s only emergency room. The facility had been licensed for 158 beds, but the new operators planned to open it as a smaller facility with an initial capacity of 20 to 30 beds.
Starting Saturday, the hospital will only accept transfers from other hospitals and will not be accepting emergency room patients or walk-in patients. The opening will bring an additional 158 hospital beds to the region, including 10 intensive care beds and 10 ventilators.
“I want to thank Governor Newsom, our state officials, the California Department of Public Health, and the City of Long Beach for their decisive efforts in the swift reopening of Community Hospital,” said John Molina, Partner at Molina, Wu, Network, LLC., Community’s operator. “I’m especially thankful to my partners at Network Medical Management and AMHC Healthcare. We are in a public health crisis and need every resource available to ensure that our community has access to these critical, life-saving services.”
Community Hospital in recent months has passed several milestones in its effort to reopen. In February, the California Department of Public Health licensed the hospital’s clinical laboratory, marking one of two specialized licenses needed for a final site survey and to operate and direct medical services. The application for the second license to operate the pharmacy is in progress.
The hospital was closed in the summer of 2018 after it was found to be sitting on an active earthquake fault line. The state has since approved a seismic compliance plan for the property and construction is underway.
The reopening is a partnership with state, county and local officials. The hospital is expected to provide further updates in the coming days and weeks.
Newsom said Sunday that California has only about 74,000 hospital beds, including 11,500 intensive care unit (ICU) beds. It also has “surge capacity” of 8,661 more beds.”
The scope of the potential need isn’t entirely clear because U.S. testing has lagged severely, depressing the case count. But estimates based on the experience of countries already hit by the virus indicate 40% to 70% of the U.S. population could become infected in the next 18 months. Separate estimates for national worst-case scenarios show that anywhere between 2.4 million to 21 million people could require hospitalization nationally.
A USA Today analysis that took into consideration the number of beds already in use found that California may need 20 times its number of open beds to handle a surge of patients.
To prevent that outcome, experts say Americans must “flatten the curve” of the epidemic, another way of saying slow the rate of spread. Under a flattened curve, many people get sick over a longer period of time, allowing the health care system to handle incoming cases. Under the opposite scenario—a steep spiked curve —there could be more sick people than hospital beds and ventilators.
On Thursday, the county’s public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced that a second person has died in the county due to the coronavirus, while the overall number of cases has increased by 40, including two more cases in Long Beach, bringing the total to 232 countywide. The person who died was between 30 and 50 years old and lived near Pasadena, officials said.
Ferrer said she expects the number of cases to surge over the next four to 12 weeks, but people can help slow the growth through social distancing.
“Social distancing is crucial and we implore you to take seriously everyone’s obligation to limit their exposure to others and to limit others from being exposed to you,” she said. “Assume you may be infected and that others around you may be infected and therefore act accordingly. Everyone should remain home as much as possible.”
Editor’s note: John Molina is a founding partner in Pacific6, the parent company of the Long Beach Post.
CalMatters, a nonprofit news source, contributed to this article.