Plans to convert the now-defunct Community Hospital into a wellness campus continue to move forward, according to the property’s owner, even as the site will be used as the city’s winter homeless shelter starting next week.
It’s been more than a year since MWN Community Hospital, LLC, which operated the facility and now owns the property, announced the hospital’s closure along with plans to use the site to provide wellness services.
The property has not yet reopened as a wellness campus, but MWN spokesperson Brandon Dowling said Wednesday the company’s work with the city and state is ongoing and the plans remain unchanged.
“It’s been a steady progress of planning,” Dowling said.
The hospital was previously owned by the city and operated by MWN. But as part of that lease agreement, MWN was to be reimbursed for its losses up to the market value of the property if the hospital was shuttered for any reason. In November 2021, MWN announced the hospital’s closure, and since the losses ($26.65 million) were more than the property value ($17.71 million), the city transferred the site to the MWN in October of this year to fulfill that lease obligation.
For now, the hospital site remains vacant, so the City Council on Tuesday approved an agreement with the company to host the 81-bed shelter in the old Community Heart Center building and to provide the services at cost, according to Jennifer Marsh, MWN campus administrator.
“We have been pushing the city strongly to consider not only the safety of the guests we’ll have here, but the security of the tenants in the medical office building and the neighborhood that surrounds us,” Dowling said.
The Heart Center is wedged between the historic, Spanish-style hospital building and the medical office on the northern end of the property. It is already fully enclosed by its own fence, which will help with security, Dowling said.
The site’s use as the winter shelter through March 31 is not expected to delay the opening of the wellness center, Dowling said.
Construction to facilitate the wellness center will include work on the Heart Center and the mid-rise tower behind the historic hospital building, which is expected to begin late next year, according to Dowling. The bulk of the work will be centered around accessibility and fire and life safety to bring the buildings up to modern standards.
The city had owned the hospital since 1911, which allowed it to be grandfathered into older standards for decades. Once the facility was transferred to MWN and the company surrendered its acute care license for a change of use, the property became subject to all current standards, Dowling explained.
Once the first two projects are complete, Dowling said the company will use a phased-in approach to reopen other portions of the campus.
The facility will have a focus on inpatient behavioral health, Dowling said. He did not share the names of the third-party service providers who are in talks to operate on the campus, but he confirmed there are discussions to provide urgent care, a laboratory and physical therapy, along with a PACE provider, which offers comprehensive medical and social services to the elderly.
Other services that may be coming to the campus include detox and a Federally Qualified Health Center. An FQHC is subsidized through the federal government to provide affordable health care to underserved people, including preventative health, dental, mental health and substance abuse services and more.
In the long term, Dowling said health or educational housing is an option that is still being considered, especially since the southeastern portion of the property is essentially an unused paved parking lot.
“For now, we look forward to focusing on the shelter and being part of that,” Marsh said. “If we could do more, we would do more.”
Editor’s note: John Molina is the owner of MWN, and he is also the primary investor in the parent company that owns the Long Beach Post. Read more about the Post’s ownership here.