Molina in crowd

John Molina goes into the crowd to answer questions Wednesday at a meeting to update the public on the status of efforts to reopen Community Hospital. About 100 people came to the Long Beach Yacht Club to hear the update.

John Molina told a group of about 100 people Wednesday evening that his group, Molina, Wu, Network, LLC., and city officials are "close" to an agreement about Community Hospital's reopening, but declined to offer a target opening date.

MWN was awarded an exclusive right to negotiate a lease for the property at Pacific Coast Highway and Termino Avenue last June — days before the hospital was closed by then-operator MemorialCare. After hiring CEO Virg Narbutas, the MWN group set a goal of re-opening on Jan. 1.

"What we want to avoid is repromising a date, then missing it again," Molina said Wednesday. "It's clear we aren't going to meet Jan. 1."

Molina stressed that talks are continuing between the city — which owns the property — and MWN. He said his group and the city's Economic Development director, John Keisler, talk at least twice a week.

"There's no impasse, no stalling of talks," Molina said. "In fact, we know where the middle is, I believe. The issue is how to get there."

MemorialCare announced in November 2017 that it would stop operating Community Hospital primarily because it would cost too much to seismically retrofit the buildings to meet state standards. John Bishop, CEO of the Long Beach Memorial hospital group, said recent studies had shown an earthquake fault running directly under the property, requiring significant work on many of the hospital buildings.

Molina said Wednesday that his group conducted its own study and engineering projections. The necessary seismic work could cost $45 million, he said.

"We understand better now what Memorial was facing," Molina said. "The difference is, we aren't quitting… The question is, who's going to pay the $45 million and how it's going to be paid."

Narbutas tried to sketch a timeline for reopening, saying it would take about three months to accept the first patient after MWN had possession of the property. That's if the state approves the license application and the hospital passes the necessary inspections.

"It will take at least three months," Narbutas said. "We'll need to hire department directors, get the equipment we need, make agreements with contractors — an emergency physicians group, for example — get physicians certified and more. An electronic medical records system has to be up to speed… We just need to get into the building."

Molina has said that MWN wants to open a smaller acute care hospital in the "legacy" buildings on one side of the earthquake fault in support of the emergency department. The other half of the campus could be used for psychiatric behavioral health beds or other services where patients are ambulatory.

Ray Burton, president of the Community Hospital of Long Beach Foundation board, said Wednesday that the foundation has pledged $1 million to help reopen the hospital — and told the crowd they could help by supporting the foundation. Burton also said there is a deadline when MemorialCare could no longer keep the hospital license in suspension (allowing a new operator to come in without starting the licensing process from the beginning). That deadline is at the end of April 2019, he said.

"What do we need you to do now?" Molina said in answer to a question. "We need you to be patient."

"That's very difficult," the questioner replied.

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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