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After July closure of Community, next hospital CEO targets Jan. 1, 2019 reopening

The hospital task-force meeting informed about transition process, rehiring employees and projected timeline

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Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Virg Narbutas, the next CEO of Community Hospital Long Beach, informed the hospital task force during its meeting at the VA Long Beach Medical Center on Monday, July 30 that the target date to reopen the facility will be Jan. 1, 2019.

It’s been half a year of the Community Hospital Task Force’s campaign to “save the ER” and the City of Long Beach’s efforts to locate a new medical operator, and now that Community is on its way to transition from MemorialCare’s hands to Molina, Wu, Network, LLC. (MWN), the focus has shifted from salvaging the hospital to reopening it.

During the Community Hospital Task Force meeting on Monday, July 30 inside the VA Long Beach Healthcare System’s Pantages Theatre, the next CEO of the hospital, Virg Narbutas, said his goal is for Community to recommence acute-care services and “take the first patient” on Jan. 1, 2019.

“I’m trying to be realistic,” Narbutas said during the meeting. “If we can get it open sooner, that’d be great. I know that flu season is really going to impact us, and we’re going to need those beds, we’re going to need that ER. So, with a goal of Jan. 1– maybe we can get it sooner. I’m pushing as hard as I can. The sooner the better, obviously.”

There are 300 employees currently signed up to return to Community Hospital, Narbutas said. His team is trying to work with Pacific Gateway, a locally based employment agency, and the City of Long Beach to temporarily help Community employees who lost their jobs. The priority is to hire qualified workers who have already been affiliated with the hospital.

There is also assistance from local doctors Andrew Manos, Mike Vasilomanolakis and James Dello Russo in getting additional medical staff in place for a future radiology department, a behavioral unit– which will house 28 beds– and basic intensive-care unit (ICU), among other resources. Narbutas said the process to hire staff, gather medical equipment and establish policies, applications and paperwork will continue along until the end of the year.

“Day one, I just want to get everybody in place, just like it was when Memorial left,” he said. “We want to get the ICU ready. We will slowly open it as we start the first day. Obviously, we can’t flood everybody in, because we may not have enough employees, and that will be dangerous. But, we’ll try to get as much staff as we can [to] absorb as many patients as we can into the emergency room. Those that can’t, we will continue to help divert over to the other local hospitals.”

Narbutas, a Los Angeles native who earned his master’s degree in hospital administration at UCLA, has experience working at Kaiser Permanente, VA Wadsworth, Lakewood Regional Medical Center and West Anaheim Medical Center.
The next CEO said he enjoys working at local hospitals because of the opportunity to engage with people in the neighborhood.

“And now I’m at my dream job,” he said. “This is going to be so fantastic. This is a great community hospital. I love little community hospitals. You get in touch with the people, so it’s not about the size– it’s about the quality and the people that work at the hospital that makes it what it is.”

The Community Hospital Long Beach Task Force convened on Monday, July 30 at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System’s Pantages Theatre. Pictured, from left: Ray Burton, chair of the nonprofit Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation; Michael Brascia, co-chair of the Community Hospital Task Force; and John Keisler, City of Long Beach director of economic and property development.

He later concluded, “It is an honor and privilege to serve the residents of my hometown. I won’t let you down.”

John Keisler, City of Long Beach director of economic and property development, said the City is analyzing the requirements as it relates to restarting the hospital, transferring the license of the hospital to MWN and establishing a cost for a long-term retrofit to meet the State’s seismic-compliance requirements, which involves developing constructing and engineering plans. The Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) is working with the City’s architect, Perkins+Will, to create a plan that will consolidate acute-care services to a seismically safe portion of the facility.

“We do feel like we’re moving through the process in a very responsible way,” Keisler said, “and we’re doing it in lockstep with the State Regulatory Agency so that what we project to do in the plans that we’re creating will be acceptable to them.”

The City is also in the process of negotiating the reopening and construction costs with MWN, Keisler said.

“MWN has shown even more investment, because sometimes when you start to get down to brass tacks and start to look at big numbers, people lose momentum,” he said. “In fact, we’re gaining momentum, with Virg being here tonight– to see that they appointed a CEO shows they are serious– and we’re also going through a process of trying to gently transition the facility, so that you don’t see some abrupt cage go up around it. I have staff that are working with our contractors to make sure that we’re doing our best of transitioning everything– from landscaping to the utilities, the whole plant is still running.”

The change-of-ownership application that is required in transferring a license will also take a few months, Keisler said. Although the Long Beach City Council provided a 180-day deadline to negotiate a lease agreement with MWN, Keisler is aiming to accomplish the task within 90 days in an attempt to reopen the facility more quickly.

Ray Burton, chair of the nonprofit Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation, said the task force’s July 30 meeting was technically its last, as the team will now identify itself as the “Hospital Reopening Group.” The savetheer.com website the task force created will link people directly to the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation’s website, chlb.org, within 30 days.

Burton added that MWN will be operating Community Hospital as a for-profit.

The Hospital Reopening Group will have its first official meeting on Monday, Aug. 27 at an undisclosed location and time.

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After July closure of Community, next hospital CEO targets Jan. 1, 2019 reopening