community hospital closed

Community Hospital of Long Beach remains quiet, waiting for a license to operate.

State Health Department officials visited Community Hospital of Long Beach last week in what had been characterized as a "final inspection," but more issues have come up that likely will keep the hospital closed until after 2021 has arrived.

"The inspectors found a number of items that need to be addressed/fixed," said John Molina, principal of the operator, Molina, Wu, Network, (MWN) via email. "Our current staff is knocking each item down. It’s like a ‘punch list' that is done at the end of construction."

Pacific6 spokesman Brandon Dowling said Tuesday that an opening date has not been set, with the situation changing "literally day by day." He said the hospital still has a chance to open before the end of the year.

Community Hospital has been closed since July 3, 2018, when the operator at that time, MemorialCare, after deciding required seismic retrofitting and other issues made the hospital too expensive to continue to operate. The hospital land and buildings is owned by the city of Long Beach, and both elected and appointed officials mobilized quickly to find another operator.

A Request For Proposals was ready to go out when the hospital closed, and the city had decided on MWN as the next operator before the end of the year. A short-term lease was signed for both sides to do research into the feasibility of reopening, especially in light of the fact an earthquake fault ran beneath the property.

By October 2019, a 45-year lease was hammered out, with the city agreeing to pay up to $25 million in retrofit costs, starting with $1 million per year for the next 15 years. That lease 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.

But Molina and the Pacific6 Enterprises group that has become the face of the Community Hospital reopening effort has shown no signs of giving up. In a September story, 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 plan.

The state Department of Public Health has been close-lipped about the inspection process. In an email Monday, spokesman Mark Smith would say only, "The California Department of Public Health continues to work with Community Hospital Long Beach and its operators on details related to the facility’s potential licensure." That's the same statement he made in September.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Community Hospital of Long Beach has been mentioned multiple times as a way to ease the pressure on other Long Beach and Southern California hospitals. While the hospital once had a license for more than 100 hospital beds, the early opening plans have been to operate a smaller number of beds in one seismically-safe portion of the hospital.

Another issue that could be problematic in the effort to reopen is staffing. Other hospitals have been struggling to stay properly staffed due to the pandemic pressures. Signing on with Community without a date to actually go to work is an issue as well.

"We are working with Pacific Gateway to help us with recruiting staff," Molina said in his email. "It has (been a) bit of a Catch-22. It’s tough to hire folks if we don’t have patients or a license; however, now that licensure is within reach, we will attempt to hire a robust staff. Many former employees have expressed interest in rejoining, but they need to give notice, etc."

Neither state nor local elected officials had any information to share. State Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell and Fourth District City Councilman Daryl Supernaw both said the matter is between the operator and the state's health department.

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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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