For the last 18 months, John Molina and his Molina, Wu, Network LCC (MWN) have been trying to open at least part of Community Hospital of Long Beach on the city's east side.
The hospital is still closed. And it likely will be closed on Oct. 15, the first anniversary of a 45-year lease between the city and MWN for the hospital at Termino Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway.
"My frustration is that we made a commitment to get it open, and we haven't done it," Molina said in an interview Friday. "I'm disappointed, to say the least. But I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Molina was referring to multiple opening date targets that have been missed since March 2019, when MWN was chosen as the preferred operator and awarded a one-year lease.
MemorialCare Long Beach had operated the hospital for about five years before deciding required seismic retrofitting and other issues made the hospital too expensive to operate. MemorialCare closed the facility on July 3, 2018.
East side residents and elected officials rallied quickly, saying the hospital and its emergency department were critical to health care. The city owns the land and has leased the property with the caveat that it be operated as a hospital.
MemorialCare allowed the city to use its license to operate in an attempt to smooth the reopening process, but multiple roadblocks have appeared. For example, an earthquake fault runs beneath the property, according to seismic studies, and puts critical operating facilities and hospital facilities on opposite sides of the fault.
"We've had to put on a new roof," Molina said. "Then it was a new (industrial) dishwasher. Now for the last six weeks, we've been dealing with the air conditioning system. We have to deal with the air flow in and out of each and every room. That was several hundred thousand dollars… We have a handful of rooms left."
Molina estimated that MWN has spent $6 million so far, including architecture and engineering work on a required seismic retrofit plan. That doesn't count the $1 million pledged by the Long Beach Community Hospital Foundation for that seismic work.
John Keisler, the city's economic development director and the head negotiator for the hospital lease, said the city hasn't spent money on Community Hospital — yet. Once Oct. 15 arrives, here will be a reckoning of lease costs over the last year. And after Oct. 15 the city is supposed to reimburse MWN 50% of seismic retrofit costs up to $1 million a year.
"We've been talking with them and attending meetings," Keisler said. "And OSHPD (Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development) is still engaged. If they haven't walked away, it's still viable."
Mark Smith, a spokesman at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) responded to an email this week saying the licensing issue was still open, and that he was checking the status. OSHPD must approve the readiness of the physical plant to operate before the CDPH will schedule an inspection for the actual operation license.
"We had expected all of this to be in working order," Molina said. "We didn't realize the amount of deferred maintenance we would have to do."
City Councilman Daryl Supernaw, whose Fourth District includes Community Hospital and who has championed the reopening for the last two years, said he remains cautiously optimistic.
"While a number of projected opening dates have been missed, I am still hopeful whenever I hear another California Department of Public Health (CDPH) inspection may be scheduled," Supernaw wrote in an email. "It indicates we are moving forward in the process, and rigorous standards are being met.
"It also illustrates how there is a greater level of scrutiny in opening a hospital versus maintaining an existing operation," he added. "I’ve always stated that we want to get the hospital open, and we want it to stay open. We certainly wouldn’t want to see any corners cut to expedite the opening date."