An active fault line detected beneath the Community Medical Center in Long Beach is forcing the hospital to end its emergency-care services and other acute healthcare needs by mid-2019, according to City officials.
During a Long Beach City Council meeting on Nov. 14, John Bishop, chief executive with MemorialCare, said the hospital does not meet the seismic-safety regulations established by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD).
Following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, which killed 72 people, Senate Bill-1953 (SB-1953) was signed into law and stated that acute-care hospitals had to meet OSHPD earthquake-safety standards by Jan. 1, 2013. Senate Bill-90 offered a deadline extension for many hospitals, including Community Medical Care. This extension pushed the date back to June 30, 2019.
Bishop said MemorialCare had been aware of the fault line when the company acquired the hospital on April 29, 2011.
“We thought it was a single fault that was running along the back-left portion of the property,” he said.
The most recent study of the fault lines indicated that Community Medical Center now stands on two larger fault lines as compared to one. Bishop said the company has invested more than $22 million in operational enhancements, including $15 million in capital funding. Nearly $1 million has been spent on evaluating options to become compliant with the seismic law.
“When we acquired the property, we were fully intending to be able to keep it in operations beyond 2020,” Bishop said.
Three seismic studies have been performed over the last eight years. The two most recent studies confirm that the fault zone, where the hospital is located, is considered active.
The fault zone was not triggered during the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, but it did rupture 300 years ago, according to Bishop.
“That may sound like a long time ago, but the seismic window, from the state’s perspective, is 11,000 years,” he said. “It will not be considered inactive for another 10,700 years.”
After two years of working with seismic experts, structural engineers and architects, Bishop said OSHPD confirmed that seismic-earthquake remediation necessary for acute-care hospitals to meet SB-1953 compliance by June 30, 2019 is not feasible for Community Medical Center.
He said the last chance to retrofit the property would be to move the front portion of the hospital, called Heritage Building, 50 feet away from the fault line. That would require a seismic separation of the 100-year-old building, which would salvage 20 hospital beds.
“Twenty beds, regardless of cost, is simply not sufficient to support an emergency department and to maintain viable hospital operations,” Bishop said.
Residents that would use Community to seek emergency services can visit the surrounding hospitals instead, including Lakewood Regional Medical Center, College Medical Center, Long Beach Memorial and Miller Children’s Hospital, Los Alamitos Medical Center and St. Mary’s Medical Center.
An analysis shows that only 56 percent of licensed inpatient beds in Community service the surrounding area, according to Bishop. Community also offers behavioral-health services. An assessment by the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services stated that there are large gaps in behavioral-health services across the city.
“There is no opportunity for this to remain as acute care. No other operator can come in and run it as acute care,” Bishop said. “It’s sad. Acute-care operations have to close.”
As of press time, Community is still serving patients while MemorialCare works on transition plans. Bishop said the company is implementing an Employee Retention Bonus program for hospital staff.
Community employees are eligible to transfer to other hospitals within the MemorialCare system on a priority basis.
Bishop told the Signal Tribune during a phone interview Tuesday that employees at the hospital are sad to hear the news about the closure but not surprised.
“In order to incentivize [the employees] to stay during this period of transition, we thought it was only right to give them a retention bonus, otherwise it would make sense that they would be looking for a job in a relatively short order,” Bishop said.
During the Nov. 17 city council meeting, Long Beach Fire Department Chief Michael DuRee said the closure of emergency services at Community impacts the residents and first responders with the LBFD.
In 2013, 2,767 patients were transported to Community. This number increased to 4,975 patients in 2017, according to DuRee. Patients that were sent to Community for acute-care services will have to go somewhere else, which could result in longer transport times.
On average, Community patients on basic life support experience 50 minutes of “wall time”– a term used to describe the amount of time before a patient is helped by hospital staff and the paramedic that brought the patient can leave to answer other emergency calls. Those on advanced life support see less wall time, DuRee said.
The situation will worsen because Community’s acute-care service will end. DuRee said it is important to note that Community is not approved for pediatric, ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI), stroke or trauma patients. There is no change in those types of calls.
“We are meeting with the fire department in the coming weeks to talk about ways to mitigate that impact,” Bishop said. “There are plans in the area hospitals to not only increase their emergency-department capacity but also to create urgent-care centers that would give us more capacity than we have today. In the short term, we are going to have to strategize how to increase our capacity to account for the patients that will no longer be able to be seen at Community.”