On July 3, 2018, MemorialCare personnel turned out the lights at Community Hospital of Long Beach, locked the doors and gave the keys back to the city.
City officials appeared ready. A new operator — Molina, Wu, Network (MWN) — had been chosen and negotiations were going well; a reopening before the end of the year seemed likely.
Two years and a coronavirus pandemic later, the hospital is still closed. MWN and Pacific6 (the investment company partnering in MWN as Molina) spokesman Brandon Dowling said:
"We are still working with CDPH (California Department of Public Health) to secure the hospital’s license. It’s a bit out of our hands as we wait for them to confirm a date for the final site inspection."
That final site inspection has been expected "in weeks" for most of 2020. In March, it appeared Community Hospital would be enlisted in the push to increase the number of hospital beds in the region in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the final inspection never occurred, and the hospital stayed closed while a field hospital with 100 beds was prepared at the Long Beach Arena. That facility has not been used either.
John Molina, who has acted as the primary negotiator and principal for MWN, explained the status of negotiations later Tuesday by email.
"We are currently working with the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) and the California Department of Public Health to arrange the final inspections," Molina wrote. "Step 1 is to get OSHPD to give us a clearance on the physical facility. OSHPD has requested a number of repairs, some of which date back to a time prior to MWN taking over. These items should be completed this week. Step 2 is to get CDPH to inspect the hospital, which we hope to happen in the coming weeks.
"We have spent several months and millions of dollars preparing for this reopening. We have purchased the necessary equipment and supplies, hired over 100 staff through Pacific Gateway, and have onboarded a clinical management team so that we will be prepared to care for patients immediately upon licensure.”
Neither Dowling nor John Keisler, Long Beach's director of Economic Development, could say whether the recent spike in COCID-19 cases would cause renewed interest from the state in opening Community. CDPH staff said work continues, but they have not changed approaches.
"We continue to work with the provider in planning a potential survey to determine readiness for operations," Mark Smith, a CDPH spokesman, said Tuesday in an email. "COVID-19 is not a factor in these processes."
Keisler said the city continues to support MWN, but is allowing them to take the lead in the reopening process.
"Although MWN is now responsible for securing the state licenses needed to reopen the hospital, the city continues to support the project in several ways including assistance with the recruitment of hospital staffing, the securing of local permits needed to reopen the facility, and the development of construction plans to meet longer-term state seismic requirements," Keisler wrote in an email. "It is a complicated process but a lot of progress has been made and much has been accomplished to get to this point."
Long Beach's City Council approved a 45-year lease of the Community Hospital property in October 2019. That lease commits the city to paying up to $25 million for seismic repairs necessary to reopen the entire campus.
It also includes a clause that says MWN could terminate the lease if the company finds “it is no longer economically feasible to operate at” Community Hospital. MWN could be fully reimbursed for the cost of the seismic work if it chooses to terminate the lease.
The Community Hospital of Long Beach Foundation, which has continued to work through a series of hospital operators over the years, has pledged $1 million toward plans for the seismic repairs. Foundation executive director Matthew Faulkner said he believes the reopening is getting closer.
“The CHLB Foundation has worked closely and diligently with both the hospital leaseholder MWN LLC and the city of Long Beach on the reopening of CHLB and on the seismic compliance construction project to retrofit and restore the hospital to provide sustainable state-of-the-art life-saving care for our community," Faulkner said in a prepared statement. "…The Foundation has thoughtfully invested in both the reopening of the hospital and in the planning of the retrofit and restoration project which will yield critical acute and sub-acute medical infrastructure for the long-term health and wellness of all of our residents. We look forward to the reopening of CHLB very soon and to sharing the exciting plans for the retrofit and restoration project with our community.”