With the recent confirmation of an active earthquake fault under Community Medical Center Long Beach resulting in the inability to sustain the acute care facility and the increasing departure of staff seeking longer-term opportunities, a 120-day lease termination notice on behalf of Community Medical Center was filed today by Long Beach Medical Center to the City of Long Beach, owner of the land and facilities at the Community Medical Center campus.
In November 2017, Community Medical Center announced findings from independent seismic studies which detailed a wide, active fault zone under the hospital campus. The findings were supported by significant due diligence, including consulting with seismic experts, structural engineers and architects and recently verified by seismic experts hired by the City of Long Beach. Additionally, the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) confirmed that due to the active fault line and California’s legal requirements for acute care hospitals, Community Medical Center cannot meet seismic compliance regulation effective June 30, 2019.
Since making the announcement in November of the impending closure, the number of Community Medical Center employees and staff leaving for other longer-term opportunities has grown significantly. While Community Medical Center continues to maintain patient staffing ratios, it has become increasingly challenging to maintain the depth of resources available and necessary to operate an acute care hospital. As such, the 120-day notice has been submitted. The facility will remain appropriately staffed until the hospital has closed all acute care services.
“This is a difficult announcement,” says John Bishop, CEO of Community Hospital Long Beach. “We exhaustively explored all options to continue operations at Community Medical Center as an acute care hospital. This proved not possible since large portions of the facility would have to be demolished, resulting in a small, 94-year-old hospital with no more than 20 acute care beds, which would not allow for viable acute care operations. We did not take this decision lightly, and we are committed to doing everything we can to ease the transition for affected employees, physicians, and our patients. We are saddened by this, but I want to assure Long Beach residents that Memorial Care continues to be dedicated to providing the health care the city needs.”
Long Beach Medical Center has been committed to the City of Long Beach since opening its first hospital in Long Beach in 1907, becoming the city’s largest private employer. Over the years the non-profit, Long Beach Medical Center and Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach have grown to be among the West’s largest and most recognized hospitals.
Since acquiring the lease for Community Hospital in 2011, Long Beach Medical Center has committed more than $22 million in programmatic and operational enhancements, including $15 million in capital funding. Over the years, it has added many convenient outpatient community-based services to the area, including large, comprehensive medical facilities in Los Altos and Douglas Park as well as local medical imaging, urgent care, ambulatory surgery, kidney dialysis and other programs and services for both adults and children.
“However, when it became clear in recent months that the severity of the seismic issues would not make it possible to continue acute care services, as a mission-directed health care provider we were optimistic a decision would be made by the City of Long Beach to allow the transition of the facility to meet what has repeatedly found to be the most critical health care need of the community,” says Bishop.
That need is to greatly expand inpatient behavioral health services—inpatient services allowed under the seismic regulations. This was identified pursuant to an in-depth analysis conducted by a prominent third party with considerable expertise in Community Needs Assessments and additionally through an earlier study conducted by the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services that confirmed the gaps in behavioral health across the City.
“It was our sincere desire to facilitate the transition of Community Medical Center to another operator that would provide full-time behavioral health services at the Community Medical Center location,” says Bishop. “However, in light of the City’s recent decision rejecting this concept, we were forced to evaluate our ability to maintain viable acute care operations at Community Medical Center. The hospital respects the due diligence of the City to make a decision on how best to utilize its land and buildings.”
In addition to the seismic studies, Community Medical Center commissioned a study to better understand the need for general acute care hospital services in the Long Beach community. The study found that Community Medical Center’s service area has seven acute care hospitals within a short travel distance, all with large numbers of available patient care beds and excess capacity. It showed a low combined occupancy rate of only 56 percent of licensed inpatient beds. This means, on average, area hospitals have about 800 licensed hospital beds vacant and available for additional patients each day.
The study also found it likely that the need for acute care inpatient hospital beds will decrease even further due to the industry-wide shift from inpatient settings to outpatient care settings, continued reduction in the average length of hospital stays and increasing population health initiatives that are meant to improve the overall management of individual patients. Therefore, the conclusion is that nearby area hospitals could absorb the number of acute care hospital patients currently served by Community Medical Center.
The study also looked at local emergency departments and learned that Community Medical Center’s emergency department (“ER”) visits represent only about 10 percent of total ER visits. Over half the area’s ER visits are considered low acuity and these patients can be seen in other settings such as at more than two dozen urgent care centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers located in Long Beach. Community Medical Center and its emergency department is not a designated trauma center, stroke receiving center or cardiovascular receiving center, and does not provide obstetrical services. All patients needing these services are referred to other hospitals within the City.
“We recognize the needs of the Long Beach Fire Department to manage emergency health services and are committed to continue working hand-in-hand with the Fire Department to alleviate the impact on emergency departments as Long Beach Medical Center, St. Mary Medical Center and College Medical Center continue expanding their emergency services,” says Bishop. In California, emergency departments are required by law to be part of a hospital that includes acute care beds, intensive care beds, surgical suites and multiple clinical and support services.
“In addition to the three local hospitals expanding their ERs, we are introducing a number of new initiatives in the community and at our hospitals that will benefit patients, staff and emergency medical services professionals. These include expanding urgent care services on the Eastside of Long Beach, adding staff for more timely hand-offs of patients arriving by ambulance and joint educational activities with the City of Long Beach stakeholders on appropriate use of emergency and urgent care services. We are also increasing the number of observation beds at Long Beach Medical Center so that ER patients needing additional testing and monitoring before physicians decide if they should be admitted to the hospital or discharged home can be cared for in a non-emergency room location.”
Community Medical Center remains committed to its employees, providing “stay on” bonuses, guaranteed or preferential review transfer opportunities, job training, placement assistance and ongoing support resources. Together Community Medical Center and its employees will ensure a smooth and timely transition for both the community and those that care for it.