Memorial Care agrees to suspend license potentially easing transition for new Community Hospital operator

After agreeing to help the city transition operations of Community Hospital Long Beach, MemorialCare Health System filed paperwork this week to suspend its license with the state’s Department of Public Health.

The move was confirmed Thursday by people close to the negotiations, who said that in suspending its license, Memorial has now paved the way for the Molina, Wu, Network, LLC, to work toward reopening the hospital after its scheduled closure next week. (John Molina is part of that bid, and is also a founding partner in Pacific6, the parent company of the Long Beach Post).

Councilman Daryl Supernaw, who announced this development at a community meeting he hosted Wednesday night, said the city will try to make sure the process of reopening Community goes as quickly as possible.

“This is great news,” Supernaw said. “It’s a change because MemorialCare had originally planned to relinquish its license which would have made it a difficult, if not impossible task to reopen the hospital.”

In an interview with the Post, John Molina said that his group is writing its application to acquire the Community license right now and is hopeful that it will get an expedited review.

He said that while Community will still close next week, he thinks it could be open again in four to six months, adding that in the interim he hopes nothing bad happens to patients who will be diverted to other emergency rooms in the area while the Molina, Wu group works to reopen community.

“Our first goal is to get the ER open as quickly as possible,” Molina said.

If MemorialCare had let its license lapse, a new operator would have to start from scratch, including bringing the 94-year-old hospital up to 2018 operational standards.

Memorial’s working with the city is an about face from last week, when the CEO of the health system and city officials exchanged terse words over who was responsible for the hospital’s closure; several members of the City Council implored MemorialCare to “do the right thing” at last week’s meeting. On Friday it was announced that Memorial would work with the city to ease the transition of Community to a new operator.

The fate of Community has been in limbo since November, when Memorial Care announced it would cease acute care after a seismic study found the facility to be unsafe. MemorialCare said it would not be able to meet a June 2019 deadline to bring the hospital into compliance with state standards.

MemorialCare then announced this spring that it would close the hospital nearly a year earlier than expected, setting off a scramble by city officials to keep the facility and its emergency room services open amid mounting public pressure from constituents and medical professionals who claimed that shuttering Community would negatively impact the city’s health care network as a whole.

A representative from MemorialCare did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The Molina, Wu group, which is comprised of John and Dr. Mario Molina, who were ousted from day-to-day operations at Molina Healthcare more than a year ago, and AHMC, a company that runs seven hospitals in the San Gabriel Valley, was announced as a potential operator earlier this month.

The group could be granted a similar deal to Memorial’s current contract to operate Community, which the city leases to Memorial for $1 a year. The city is looking for an operator to sign a lease for 40 years.

John Molina said that the ER would be relocated to the historic portion of the hospital which is considered seismically safe while the tower behind the legacy building could be reprogrammed to host other services like behavioral health, physical or occupational therapy.

“Just because the tower is not seismically safe for acute care doesn’t mean its not seismically safe for others,” Molina said.

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.