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State inspections and approvals have been moving slower than the firm trying to reopen Community Hospital of Long Beach expected, and even a tentative date for the final inspection has been pushed to January or later.

The City Council approved a long-term lease in October with Molina, Wu, Network LLC (MWN) to reopen the historic east-side hospital, even at a reduced capacity. Monday, MWN and city officials signed the actual lease.

The hospital most recently was operated by MemorialCare, the same nonprofit that operates the biggest medical center in the city, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Women's and Children's Hospital.

A statement was released last week by Brandon Dowling, communications director of Pacific6, where John Molina (the Molina in MWN) is a principal. He said via email that the earliest the final state inspection could take place is January.

"Specifically, the State’s inspection of the medical laboratory has been completed and we are awaiting final results," Dowling said. "The application for the pharmacy license has also been submitted."

Those licenses are required before even limited medical hiring can begin, Dowling said.

MemorialCare closed Community in July 2018, saying the need for significant seismic repairs made it financially impossible to stay open. However, Community had the only full-service Emergency Department on the city's east side, and both residents and City Council members mobilized to try to get the hospital reopened.

After a Request For Proposals process, the city (which owns the property) settled on MWN as the potential operator. While lease negotiations continued, MWN began seeking inspections and licenses once a short-term lease was signed in March.

John Molina, co-founder of MWN and a principal in the Pacific6 investment group, said in March he hoped to have the emergency room operating again by July — the third missed prediction of an opening date.

Then in October, when the long-term lease was signed by the city, Economic Development Director John Keisler and Molina both said the medical center could open as early as the next month.

Dowling said last week that the state inspection still could take place in early January. But the hospital must meet a list of criteria from having an operating pharmacy and kitchen to being staffed with enough doctors and nurses to handle a limited number of hospital beds in order to open the emergency department. There also are questions regarding the seismic survival of the current heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

"Everyone would like CHLB to open as soon as possible," Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw wrote. Community Hospital is in the Fourth District. "Residents are looking forward to the return of east side emergency medical services and a reduction of paramedic transport times (at a minimum of 10%) citywide. As we’ve explained in our weekly e-newsletter, delays in hospital reopening schedule are reflective of the complexity of the process.

"Residents have been very patient with that process are cognizant of the fact that very demanding standards must be met for two important reasons: First, we want a quality hospital that will remain open for years to come.  Second, MWN is working with state regulatory agencies with inspection standards and schedules that simply require a lot of time.

"The good news is that we’ve made tremendous progress and are on a clear path to reopening."

Mayor Robert Garcia offered similar sentiments in a text message.

"We made reopening Community Hospital a top priority and are committed to an accessible and safe emergency room for all residents of Long Beach," Garcia said. "Signing of the long-term agreement (in October) brings us one step closer to outstanding medical care and health services citywide."

Calls for comment to the state Health Department were not returned by deadline.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the actual signing of the lease on Monday.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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