When MemorialCare announced Monday that it had filed a 120-day lease termination notice for Community Hospital, it seemed as though the end of the road had finally arrived for the east-side facility, after months of efforts by city leaders, hospital staff, an assemblymember and even a special task force to save it after it was determined last year that it sits on an active fault line. In what was seen as a surprising move, effective July 3 of this year, MemorialCare will no longer provide any acute or psychiatric care at Community Hospital, nor will it support any of the eight basic services there provided by all hospitals in the state.
However, Community Hospital still has some powerful figures in its corner, including 70th District Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell and the City of Long Beach, both of whom this week stated their intentions to continue fighting to keep it open.
With an earlier-than-expected deadline, however, that effort has become more challenging.
“I am disheartened by MemorialCare’s move to terminate all services earlier than indicated at Community Hospital,” wrote O’Donnell in a statement Monday afternoon. “In my perception, the decision is clearly motivated by MemorialCare’s desire to both leave the hospital and prevent other providers from coming in to serve the greater community. Community Hospital offers the only emergency room on the east side of the city. This decision will put even more pressure on other emergency rooms throughout the region and endangers the health and safety of east-side residents.”
In response to MemorialCare’s initial announcement to cease services by the end of 2019, O’Donnell had introduced AB 2591 on Feb. 15 to seek an extension for the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development seismic-compliance deadline for existing operations at the hospital through 2025.
“I introduced AB 2591 to give both the community and MemorialCare more time to find a lasting solution,” O’Donnell wrote. “This announcement makes the effort to secure a provider for Community Hospital much more difficult. I urge stakeholders to stay engaged as we determine our next steps.”
The City of Long Beach issued a press release Monday pointing out that months of negotiations between the City and MemorialCare had preceded the lease termination and that, although MemorialCare had previously determined that the active fault line under Community Hospital makes it infeasible to continue providing services there, State agencies have not informed the City that it is impossible to meet seismic requirements in order to do so.
Long Beach officials are exploring all opportunities to continue hospital services, inclusive of psychiatric care at Community Hospital, according to the City’s press release, which also states that the City recognizes the regional need for quality psychiatric care and understands the importance of the co-located acute and psychiatric care services currently provided at the hospital.
“Community Hospital is a critical asset to our community,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said. “We are exploring every possibility to keep an emergency room and hospital on site, including State legislation, other possible operators and potential solutions to the seismic challenges. While we are disappointed to hear the news of Memorial giving formal notice, the City’s efforts to find solutions and opportunities will continue.”
City officials say they are actively engaged in discussions with various hospital operators who are interested in providing “high-quality services” at Community Hospital while working with the City to meet State seismic-compliance requirements.
Pursuant to Garcia’s and the city council’s formal request to renew the acute- and psychiatric-care licenses at Community Hospital, MemorialCare has indicated it intends to carry out the usual annual process for renewing the acute-care license, which includes the psychiatric-care unit. The current license expires April 28, 2018, and the City has requested that it be renewed through April 29, 2019.
“Memorial agreed to renew the current licenses– acute-care and [psychiatric]– which expire on April 28, per a request that the city council made to Memorial in their Feb. 16 letter to the [Long Beach Memorial Medical Center] Board of Directors,” said Matthew Faulkner, executive director of the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation, in an emailed response to the Signal Tribune Wednesday afternoon. “The renewal of the license allows Memorial to run their operation through their announced end date of July 3, 2018. I believe this is just a one-time action on the part of Memorial per the City’s request as they intend to cease their operation of [Community Hospital] on or before July 3.”
Faulkner added that the foundation wants residents to know that it is leading “a thoughtful and concerted effort” to keep the hospital open as well as engage the community in providing input. He said the foundation is beginning implementation of a survey this week to determine consumer demand for critical-care services and that the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation Task Force will have its third meeting on Monday, March 26. However, the location of that meeting has yet to be determined.
“We are also currently assessing the site for continued operations while we develop a longer-term solution,” Faulkner said. “This assessment will reinforce our work, in partnership with Assemblyman O’Donnell and the City of Long Beach, to develop AB2591. In order to give the proposed legislation some real teeth, we’ve got to have a plan and budget for sustained operation in the short term while we develop the longer-term plan.”
Faulkner added that the Urban Land Institute will visit the site in early April with a team of national experts in health care, policy, financing, construction, design and other areas. He said the team will look at all possible avenues to retain existing services in seismically compliant buildings on the site.
He said the foundation will also launch a “Save the ER” website to provide updates on current activities and ways in which residents can get involved and support the efforts.
“Other proposed solutions include a design charrette of local architects to develop conceptual visions of what a repurposed [Community Hospital] campus might look like and engaging a healthcare management and operations consulting firm to provide some real numbers and address a handful of logistical concerns to sustain operations in the short term,” Faulkner said. “Our interest is truly first and foremost what is best for our community, and we’ll know that with greater certainty when we hear from them. We urge our community to engage with us and let us know how they feel. Call, write, email, text or Ping us. The goal is a solution that benefits all the residents of Long Beach.”