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While a deal is not ready to vote on yet, Long Beach's City Council received an update Tuesday about negotiations to lease and reopen Community Hospital in Long Beach.

John Keisler, director of Economic and Property Development and the city's main negotiator, said he hopes to have an agreement for the council to review in December. The potential lessee is Molina, Wu and Network (MWN), and that group has said it is working to be able to reopen the hospital by Jan. 1.

"We are definitely making progress toward relicensing and reopening of the hospital," Keisler said. "On a parallel path, we need to come to terms on the agreement for the control and rebuild of the real estate."

Community Hospital opened in 1924 at the corner of Termino Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. It closed July 3 this year when MemorialCare ceased operating the emergency room there. MemorialCare had merged seven years before with a group of doctors and residents that had been running the hospital after an earlier closure.

MemorialCare officials cited the need to retrofit hospital buildings to meet state earthquake standards. A seismic review had discovered a fault directly underneath the hillside the campus sits on.

Preliminary plans released by MWN have the hospital reopening using only the original hospital building and the emergency center, all on one side of the fault. The rest of the property can be used for other purposes, but not for acute care.

That side of the property includes a medical office building that already is occupied, a parking garage and newer portions of the hospital. It also is where the primary HVAC and utilities are located.

The Molinas of MNW are Mario and John Molina, formerly of Molina Healthcare. They were forced out of the family business, but Mario Molina has since rebounded with a smaller medical group focusing on clinics. John Molina, who was CFO of Molina Healthcare, has formed Pacific6 Enterprises, an investment firm that has purchased the Breakers Hotel downtown among other properties. The Wu is Dr. Johathan Wu, whose AHMC operates seven hospitals with 12,000 beds in Southern California, and Network is the Network Medical Management firm that handles medical contracts.

MNW has hired Virg Narbutas as CEO at Community and he already is on site working to prepare for a hospital reopening. MWN officials could not be reached for comment for this story.

"The Molina Wu Network, operators of the new hospital, have completed and submitted nearly 100 percent of the re-licensing application with the state," Fourth District City Councilman Daryl Supernaw said in his latest newsletter. "Upon approval, the groundwork will be laid for the state inspection process to begin."

MWN has an exclusive right to negotiate with the city regarding the Community Hospital lease. The expected sticking point is who will bear the cost of any seismic retrofit and, if necessary, moving the HVAC/utilities plant. The 180-day negotiating term ends in mid-December, but the council also granted up to two 90-day extensions.

"We hope to … come back to open session with a deal for public review in December," Keisler said. "Fingers crossed that we can get this part of the project wrapped up by the end of the year!"

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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