community emergency room

The Emergency Department at Community Hospital of Long Beach has become a rallying point for East Side residents.

A long-term lease of Community Hospital in east Long Beach will come to the City Council for approval Tuesday, city officials say.

Friday afternoon, Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw announced in his electronic newsletter that the final agreement will go to the council this coming Tuesday, Oct. 15.

"I signed onto a supplemental agenda item submitted to the city clerk requesting that the final approval of the MWN agreement be placed on the October 15th city council agenda," Supernaw's newsletter says. "The item will be added to the agenda late this afternoon and posted on the city clerk's website. The interim agreement with MWN was unanimously approved by city council back in March, so we are very familiar with the terms. Tuesday's vote will be the final decision by City Council in making the reopening of Community Hospital a reality."

John Keisler, director of the Economic and Property Development Department, who has been the city's lead negotiator on the Community Hospital property, said Monday talks are down to "lawyer to lawyer" level. Long Beach signed a short-term agreement last March with Molina, Wu, Network, LLC, (MWN) to attempt to reopen the historic hospital at Termino Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway.

That year-long deal was set specifically to give time for a 25- to 40-year lease of the property and to give MWN time to see if it could comply with state standards for hospital operations. A key to the negotiation has been willingness of state regulators to give Long Beach time to deal with seismic issues at the hospital — an agreement that has since been reached, Keisler said.

"The state has given us approval of the seismic compliance plan," Keisler said. "The designation has been approved that gives us to 2025 to complete construction… The next big step is approval by OSHPD (Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development) of the construction plans. Those are due by June 2020."

John Molina, a cofounder of MWN and former chief financial officer of Molina HealthCare, has said he wants work to protect against earthquakes to start as soon as possible, and one of the deal points of the agreement with the city is for the city to provide $25 million over 20 years to help pay for the work (the city owns the Community Hospital property and buildings). The city's fiscal 2020 budget sets aside $1 million for the first payment, which would be made at the end of the year as long as progress has been made toward reopening.

Now that the seismic approvals are in place, MWN could open portions of the hospital as soon as state permits are received. The biggest hurdle is required inspections by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) that would agree the facility is ready to operate. That means having staff and equipment in place and functional. 

"MWN submitted an application earlier this year for the California Department of Public Health facility inspection," spokesman Brandon Dowling said Tuesday. The state has not set and exact date yet. We are currently recruiting department heads and other key personnel."

MWN hired Virgis Narbutas as Community Hospital CEO last year, and Narbutas has offices on the hospital property. MWN is responsible for maintaining the hospital and surrounding grounds, with a promise from the city to reimburse them up to $1 million if the reopening effort ultimately fails.

Eastside residents mobilized when MemorialCare, which also operates Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Women's and Children's Hospital in Long Beach, announced it would close Community because it didn't make financial sense to seismically retrofit the hospital buildings. Residents argued that an emergency room operation and attendant hospital facilities were needed for the safety of the area — an argument quickly echoed by City Council members. Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw and Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price both became champions of reopening the hospital.

In April this year, the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation pledged $1 million to offset the cost of designing the seismic retrofit. The grant is contingent on a long-term agreement between the city and MWN, and operating permits from the state. But the city already has signed a contract with Perkins +Will, Inc., for hospital facility architectural design and consulting services, in an amount not to exceed the $1 million.

Molina has said the emergency department and one part of the hospital could safely be opened, as well as a section for behavioral health patients. But any level of opening requires multiple departments, from dieticians to x-ray technicians to pharmacists. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems also must be operating. All that before the first patient can be seen in the emergency department.

"The new iteration of CHLB will include the reopening of the emergency department and behavioral health services," Dowling said Tuesday. "The reopening date is yet to be determined as it is contingent on the California Department of Public Health’s facility inspection as well as the finalization of the terms of the lease agreement with the city."

Long Beach and MWN are working under a suspended license from MemorialCare to allow Community Hospital to reopen without starting from scratch. Keisler said Monday that MemorialCare no longer has any responsibility at Community.

"But as long as we're in the process, as long as we show activity to move the timeline, the state has shown it is willing to work with us," Keisler said.

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

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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