Community Hospital in Long Beach is “days away” from opening to transfer patients, officials said Thursday, March 26.
Molina, Wu, Network (MWN), the firm operating the facility, said last week it would begin accepting transfer patients Saturday, March 21, to help alleviate the burden of the novel coronavirus pandemic on other facilities throughout the region. But that didn’t happen.
City Councilman Daryl Supernaw, whose Fourth District encompasses the hospital, said in a Thursday phone interview that some glitches prevented the facility from opening as anticipated, including a failed elevator inspection.
The fix for that elevator cost roughly $250,000, so Supernaw offered up surplus funds from his own office to “expedite matters,” he said.
A representative for MWN did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Fourth District funds were available as a result of running a lean district office in fiscal year 2019; operations for that year came in roughly $245,000 under budget, Supernaw said. Paying to fix the elevator won’t impact infrastructure or any other projects in the Fourth District, Supernaw added.
“It doesn’t impact public works,” he said. “It doesn’t dip into that at all.”
Supernaw’s office also funded a $150,000 architectural study for Community Hospital, bringing the Fourth District’s total investment in the facility to $400,000 so far.
While the folks at MWN have worked to ensure the building itself is in good enough condition to reopen, they have also prepared incoming staff to be ready to work whenever the time comes.
Nick Schultz, the executive director of the public employment agency Pacific Gateway, said Thursday that his office has kept in touch with many of the folks who were laid off when Community Hospital shuttered in 2018; within the past week, 28 of them have accepted positions to return as soon as the hospital begins accepting transfer patients.
The hospital will not operate an emergency room and will not accept walk-in patients for the time being. When it reopens, its first priority will be to accept patients from other hospitals who do not have the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. That will allow other facilities to have more open beds for people who contract the virus — an increasing concern across the region.
Long Beach on Thursday reported 54 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Los Angeles County public health officials, meanwhile, announced 421 new cases Thursday, putting the total number of confirmed cases at 1,216 people — a near doubling in 48 hours.
COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms associated with the respiratory disease appear two-to-14 days after exposure and typically include fever, a cough and shortness of breath. Most folks will have mild symptoms, but the disease can be fatal, particularly for the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
Officials have confirmed 21 deaths countywide, as of Thursday.
The coronavirus is also highly contagious, with the number of cases increasing exponentially. On Thursday, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that if the county can’t reduce the spread soon, a million people could be infected.
“If 20% need some sort of hospital care, you can see why we need people helping to slow the spread,” she said. “That would be 200,000 people who need to be hospitalized.”
There were 208 open intensive care unit beds in the entire county as of Thursday, according Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of health services. There were also about 1,500 other hospital beds available, and Ghaly said all hospitals had the ability to accommodate surge capacity. The region will also soon get another 1,000 beds for non-coronavirus patients, with the USNS Mercy hospital ship arriving Friday, March 27.
Whenever Community Hospital opens to transfer patients, it will add 158 hospital beds to the region, including 10 intensive care beds and 10 ventilators. It remains unclear how the process of transferring patients from other facilities will occur.
Schultz, meanwhile, said the people who have agreed to return to Community Hospital include those who will work in the intensive care unit, as well as lab personnel, pharmacy personnel, respiratory therapy personnel and some administrative employees for radiology.
Pacific Gateway has been waiting nearly two years to be able to help facilitate those job offers, he said.
The hospital, on Termino Avenue at Pacific Coast Highway, closed its doors in the summer of 2018, after its former operator, MemorialCare, determined a state-required seismic retrofit would be too costly for the facility to remain financially viable.
“We stayed in touch with about 70 people who were laid off previously,” Schultz said, “and kept in contact with them about the progress of both Community potentially reopening and what options we had to help them in their next career move.”
Schultz said there were still a couple of more positions to be filled in the first wave of hiring to reopen Community Hospital. Later on, he said, when the facility opens its emergency room and other departments, a bigger share of those 70 people will likely be re-hired.
“We’ll get back in contact with those folks and bring them back in for interviews for eligible positions,” he said, “when more of the facility reopens.”
Work to reopen the rest of the hospital will continue, even as medical staff focuses on transfer patients. The hospital’s required seismic retrofit has not yet been completed; MWN has hired HKS Architects, based in Dallas, to develop plans for the project.
Long Beach and MWN are splitting the cost of the retrofit, though the city’s expenses will be capped at $25 million. The Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation has agreed to provide a $1 million grant toward the effort; as part of that grant, the nonprofit handed a check of more than $260,000 to HKS Architects late last month.
For now, Schultz said, the 28 people who have accepted jobs have already been trained and onboarded; they’re ready to go whenever Community Hospital reopens its doors, which Schultz said could be as soon as Monday, March 30.
The major hurdles were out of the way, he said, and “it’s all about establishing the transfer of patients at this point in time.”
Staff writer David Rosenfeld contributed to this report.