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Community Hospital Long Beach Task Force convenes to strategize methods to preserve facility in spite of concerns about seismic safety

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Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
The Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation Task Force hosted a meeting on Monday, Jan. 29 at its administration boardroom at the facility to discuss proposed strategies and current priorities to preserve the hospital in spite of previous reports of its closing in 2019 due to seismic concerns. Daryl Supernaw, 4th District Long Beach councilmember, said the hospital is of great value to east Long Beach, adding that four generations of his family have utilized the facility.

In 1933, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Long Beach rocked the lives of Southern California residents, many of whom perished that evening when the seismic activity caused widespread damage to buildings. The quake pioneered the need for seismically safe structures countywide.

Although not always as severe, earthquakes happen every day in California.

“There are probably seven to eight, nine, 10 earthquakes a day,” said Matthew Faulkner, executive director of the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation, on Jan. 29 at a facility task-force meeting. “If that doesn’t give you peace of mind, you have to realize that a lot of our inventory and our infrastructure has withstood all those earthquakes. Community Hospital withstood the 1933 earthquake and every earthquake ever since.”

Late last year, Long Beach MemorialCare announced that Community Hospital would end medical services in 2019 as a result of an active fault line that is located beneath the facility that could pose a seismic threat to the structure.

As reported by the Signal Tribune in December, John Bishop, chief executive with MemorialCare, said at a November Long Beach City Council meeting that the hospital does not meet the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development’s (OSHPD) seismic-safety regulations.

Community Hospital Long Beach has a June 30, 2019 deadline to meet OSHPD earthquake-safety standards, according to MemorialCare.

The Community Hospital Long Beach Task Force convened on Monday at the facility’s administration boardroom to discuss proposed strategies and current priorities to preserve the hospital in spite of the aforementioned seismic concerns.

“We want to be factual but dispel some of the myths that it is seismically untenable here,” Faulkner said.

Regardless, Faulkner did acknowledge there are seismic issues to address. Per the OSHPD’s structural-performance rating, Community Hospital’s Heritage Building is listed at a “4″ and its Emergency Department is rated at “5,” which are in compliance with structural provisions of the Alquist Hospital Facilities Seismic Safety Act, but the Heritage Building may experience structural damage in the event of a potent earthquake, according to a description of the ratings at oshpd.ca.gov.

“So, currently, we have a lot of our acute life-saving care in the facilities that are safe,” Faulkner explained. “The issue is that we just touch the corner of this Heritage Building with the fault-line boundaries. This is something that we definitely have to address.”

Faulkner also displayed through renderings of the hospital that the fault line runs through the northern edge of the campus, right through the facility’s Harp Center and auditorium.

Part of the proposed strategies is to organize a townhall meeting in the next few weeks to assess community input and needs for the east Long Beach facility. Moreover, Faulkner said the foundation is creating a survey, with help from Cal State Long Beach, to gauge consumer demand for critical-care services in the neighborhood.

The survey, to be conducted via telephone, in-person and online, will allow the foundation to study Community Hospital’s impact on residents. The foundation also intends to start a public-awareness campaign through social media.

Faulkner also told the task force that the foundation has solicited the help of the nonprofit Urban Land Institute, which will provide an evaluation of the hospital through its on-site technical-assistance project. The project will assess the feasibility of maintaining critical-care services at the facility.

Daryl Supernaw, Long Beach 4th District councilmember, said at the meeting that he understands the value of maintaining acute and emergency services at Community Hospital in the east Long Beach area, which encompasses part of his council district.

“The one thing you don’t have to tell me, I’ll just speak for me as a councilman, is the value of this facility to the east side of Long Beach,” Supernaw said. “Four generations of my family have used this facility— [from] my grandmother to my kids. And I think my fellow council members feel the same thing. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t hear a story about what this facility meant to a family. That part you don’t have to sell us on.”

There are four current priorities that Faulkner defined at the meeting: addressing the hospital’s expiring practicing license; identifying a new operator; finding a new equity and capital partner; and gathering community input via the survey, public meetings and townhalls.

Matthew Faulkner, executive director of the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation, led the hospital task force’s meeting on Jan. 29 at its administration building. He stressed the need to create a community survey with statistics on consumer demand for emergency care, start a public-awareness campaign to dispel myths of the hospital and organize a townhall meeting in the next few weeks to get community input.

As mentioned, Community Hospital must meet a June 30, 2019 deadline to meet OSHPD safety standards, but another deadline looms before that time— April 28, 2018, when the practicing license of the hospital is set to expire. The license includes a permit for behavioral health and acute care.

Faulkner’s focus was to identify if the facility can sustain operations within those 90 days, and he was adamant in his belief that more time, around six to eight months, was needed to determine that.

The task force vocally agreed, with one member inquiring how exactly more time can be achieved.

John Keisler, the City of Long Beach’s director of economic and property development, said the Long Beach City Council is open to finding creative solutions to the issue, also acknowledging one suggestion at the meeting to request a council action to extend the deadline.

Ultimately, the consensus was to have dialogue with operator MemorialCare to explain the needs of Community Hospital.

Faulkner criticized MemorialCare of being negligent throughout the entire process. The other task force members mostly agreed, with others chiming in that MemorialCare devalued the property by saying that Community Hospital is untenable.

Others asked what would MemorialCare’s incentive be to renew Community Hospital’s license if it isn’t already factoring in the facility as part of its long-term plans.

Supernaw said statistics show that about 23 percent of the community’s drop-offs occur at Community Hospital, while the majority of services are walk-in patients. He said he would use that information to convince MemorialCare.

A point was also made that, from a public-relations perspective, it is in the best interest of MemorialCare to do whatever it can to salvage the hospital.

“The other issue is getting commitment from Memorial to get a base of personnel,” said Suzie Price, Long Beach 3rd District councilmember, about sustaining staff at Community Hospital. “The biggest concern is making shortsighted decisions in a reactive manner. We need to slow down the process.”

Faulkner said the hospital is currently in talks with a major potential operator. He said the possibility is that the operator could run the facility for a period of time, and then, either at the existing site or a re-purposed campus, relocate and continue operations as needed long-term.

“So, it’s a tricky proposition,” he said. “But, that’s why we have to view the whole piece of real estate in terms of what is allowable and doable.”

Faulkner added that the hospital’s demographics are “superb” and that operators are interested in the facility, but the issue is how much potential handlers are able and willing to invest.

He said the same issue arises when locating an equity partner for the hospital— finding someone “who has the deep pockets to invest in this” and who is patient on a return on that investment.

After the meeting, Faulkner told the Signal Tribune that the main objective is establishing a date for the townhall meeting and framing the right questions for the survey before the next task force meeting, which is planned for sometime in the next few weeks at an unconfirmed time.

“We feel that people are not really aware of what is happening,” Faulkner said. “They have heard some news that the hospital is closing […] [That it’s] ‘game over.’ It’s done. And, unfortunately, we have to counter that, I think, with a contrarian point of view that says, ‘It’s not “game over.” It’s not done, because we haven’t looked at the options yet.’ We haven’t had a community conversation about what we can do at Community Hospital. To me, that’s the key. We have to have that community conversation. The core public opinion, if you will, over the will of the people, will drive a solution to this issue.”

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Community Hospital Long Beach Task Force convenes to strategize methods to preserve facility in spite of concerns about seismic safety