Community Hospital Task Force seeking new medical operator in wake of approaching lease deadline

Group’s goal is to select operator by end of month and attempt to prevent closure of hospital July 3

Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
At the Community Hospital Task Force meeting on Monday, June 11 at the Long Beach Playhouse, Marisol Barajas, district director with Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell’s office, briefly updated the group about O’Donnell’s Assembly Bill 2591, introduced earlier this year to extend Community’s seismic deadline, and how it cannot move forward until a new operational and construction plan can be presented to the Assembly Health Committee.

NOTE: The City of Long Beach announced Friday via press release that it will recommend Molina, Wu, Network, LLC. healthcare group to the Long Beach City Council this Tuesday as Community Hospital’s new operator. The original story below is as follows.

When MemorialCare Health System announced its 120-day lease termination notice of Community Hospital Long Beach in March, it caught most of the neighborhood off-guard. With an already urgent list of needs Community Hospital supporters had to address– decreasing staff, seismic-safety requirements and the displacement of patients– the situation to preserve the medical facility became even more pressing.

Because the announcement was made more than 100 days ago, there are now only about 18 days until the lease ends July 3, and it is absolutely critical that an agreement is reached with a new operator to helm Community, keep the facility open and ensure a smooth transition of medical licensing from MemorialCare.

“The time for brainstorming is now over,” said Daryl Supernaw, 4th-district councilmember, at the Community Hospital Task Force meeting at the Long Beach Playhouse Monday, June 11. “[…] We’re anticipating the closure, and we’re looking at reopening the hospital and getting a new operator in place.”

The task force’s goal is to select a new operator by the end of June, ideally within the next week, and make a recommendation to the Long Beach City Council.

John Keisler, the City of Long Beach’s director of economic and property development, explained last month that the City made a “target request for information” to initiate conversations with potential operators who submitted letters of interest for Community Hospital.

Out of five potential operators, the list has been narrowed down to two unannounced candidates, Keisler said this week at the task-force meeting. In these negotiations, certain objectives are outlined for the hospital, such as developing operating, engineering, financial and construction plans. The challenge is identifying an operator who is willing and able to address the various obstacles that come with managing the hospital.

“There’s a lot of risk involved with taking over the operation of the hospital,” Keisler said, “considering not only the seismic issues that we already know about, which can be very expensive, but just being able to negotiate with the existing operator. MemorialCare has the existing hospital license currently that allows the operation of an acute-care facility.”

The City has been working collaboratively with MemorialCare to organize meetings with the two potential operators and have conversations about probable interim agreements and the transfer of licensing. This month, Keisler said there are only two chances left to approach the city council for the operator recommendation– June 19 and June 26.
Keisler is hoping for a breakthrough within the next couple of weeks between an operator and MemorialCare about coming to terms on managing the hospital after July 3 under MemorialCare’s license while the new operator applies for its state license. A change-of-ownership process is necessary, which could take from six to nine months, according to Keisler.

“We’re very hopeful that the breakthrough will happen,” he said, “and MemorialCare will see what a value it is to be able to partner with a new operator in the community and continue to provide acute-care services at Community Hospital.”

From left: Christa Indriolo, labor representative at the California Nurses Association and member of Community Hospital Long Beach, and Jackie McKay, a nurse at Community for 33 years, both discussing with those in attendance at the Community Hospital Task Force meeting at the Long Beach Playhouse on June 11 about reaching out to current and former staff about employment opportunities after the operator transition

Assuming the task force’s plans go smoothly, there is still the question of closing and reopening Community Hospital. Depending on the agreement between the potential operator and MemorialCare within the next two weeks, Community Hospital could either transition smoothly without closure from July 3 to July 4 or close operations July 3 and reopen when the new operator obtains its licensing.

“Obviously, the intent is to keep it going,” Matthew Faulkner, executive director of the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation, told the Signal Tribune after the meeting. “We don’t want people to be discouraged by the fact that it closes, because that is a likely possibility, but we want to give them assurance that it’s going to reopen, and we’re all working toward that goal. The idea, of course, is just the continuation of services, but now the reality is that, if it does close, we might have a little bit of downtime, and we’ll just try to minimize that as much as possible.”

Faulkner said Community’s emergency room is slated to close June 25 at 6am.

Keisler indicated that MemorialCare is open to the discussion about possibility transitioning its licensing to a viable operator without the possibility of Community’s closure when a selection has been made. Steps must also be taken to ensure there are no regulatory or legal violations in the switch.

“I think that they are, in a responsible way, saying that when we have a viable operator and a viable plan, they absolutely are open to those discussions,” Keisler said. “So, that’s the good news. How we’re able to do that over the next few weeks is going to be a matter of speed and, I think, the quality of those negotiations. The good news is that their leadership has said that they are open to that. […] This week is about getting to brass tacks.”

On the legislative level, Assembly Bill 2591, introduced by Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell earlier this year in an effort to extend Community Hospital’s seismic deadline, is still on hold until the City of Long Beach has established an operating agreement and a construction plan to address Community’s seismic-compliance issues. Two months ago, the Assembly Health Committee withheld an official vote and halted the bill from moving forward.

“The Assemblymember has been very upfront about being a spokesperson for the hospital and making sure that those conversations continue, not only on the Assembly side, but also on the Senate side,” said Marisol Barajas, district director with O’Donnell’s office. “Currently, we are just waiting and convening with our partners and trying to see what the plan is going to be in the next step. So, when the city council does come to an agreement, […] we can move that legislation forward.”

Matthew Faulkner, executive director of the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation, told the Signal Tribune after the Community Hospital Task Force meeting on June 11 that he wants to assure the public that, although the hospital could potentially close when the lease ends July 3, Community will reopen with a new operator and push to continue services.

Currently, the City is working with an architect firm, Perkins+Will, to develop a seismic plan.

Keisler said he is also meeting with Community’s Technical Working Group, composed of some task-force members and local community members, who are identifying all of the 81 issues impacting the hospital and putting long-term plans and contingencies in place to address them.

Among the issues is staffing. Christa Indriolo, labor representative of the California Nurses Association and member of Community Hospital Long Beach, said at the meeting she was gathering a list of contacts of those who wish to stay employed at Community after the transition, and those who left and might want to return.

Jackie McKay, a nurse at Community for 33 years, provided a brief account of the current status of Community. She said the hospital is “pretty slow,” adding how closure signs placed inside and outside various parts of the hospital have not helped.

“I don’t think we have much recourse there,” she said. “We’ve just got to live with those signs and keep people safe and keep working on it.”

Indriolo said there also some mechanisms in place to protect the assets of the hospital. She recalled that Keisler, who left the meeting early, said there were discussions with MemorialCare and the potential operators about the on-site equipment.

After the meeting, Indriolo told the Signal Tribune it is important to communicate with the neighborhood and current and former staffers at Community about the hospital situation.

“It’s a very fluid process right now,” she said. “We don’t know, but we are doing the best we can, reaching out to all staff who work there who want to be able to continue working there. And, there’s a lot of people who put a lot of heart and soul into this community, so we’re very fortunate enough that we have a lot of staff who want to stay with the new operator.”