Long Beach’s Community Hospital reopened on Monday, Jan. 4, and is “ready to accept patients,” the facility’s spokesman, Brandon Dowling, said in a phone interview — though the facility went much, if not all, of its first day without anyone to care for.
Officials are managing the reopening process slowly, and Dowling said he expected the hospital’s first patient to arrive either Monday evening or Tuesday morning.
The facility opened with 11 intensive care beds and space for 40 other patients as hospitals across the region scrambled to manage the ongoing surge of coronavirus patients.
While Community Hospital will not initially treat coronavirus patients and will instead focus on transfer patients with other health issues, it will help relieve the burden on other facilities and make room for more coronavirus-related care elsewhere.
The number of people with the coronavirus being treated in local hospitals was 541 on Monday, a jump from 514 on Thursday.
Over the weekend, several Los Angeles County hospitals declared “internal disasters,” meaning they face extreme conditions that could put patients at risk, such as severe staffing shortages. In all, according to the state, 7,898 patients were being treated at LA county hospitals, 1,627 of them in intensive-care units.
And Southern California’s ICU bed capacity, as determined by a state formula, remains at 0%.
County officials, meanwhile, warned on Monday that January could be the worst month of the pandemic.
“We are very grateful for Community Hospital Long Beach’s and the City’s efforts to re-open another hospital in Long Beach,” John Bishop, the CEO of MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center and Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, said in a statement. “The timing of the re-opening could not be better as hospitals in the area, including ours, continue to see a significant increase in COVID patients and our hospital occupancy.
“We are in the process of establishing transfer protocols for non-COVID patients,” he added, “who have clinical needs that Community Hospital Long Beach can meet.”
But Jennifer Bayer, a spokesperson for Lakewood Regional and Los Alamitos medical centers, said those facilities don’t currently have plans to transfer patients to Community.
Dowling, with Community Hospital, said Monday that it was not yet clear how quickly the facility’s 51 available beds may fill up. Officials at other medical centers in the Long Beach area are in the midst of determining which patients are eligible for transfer, a process that involves discussions about treatment plans, insurance coverage and other factors, Dowling said.
“Right now,” he said, “it’s come down to just the logistics.”
Community Hospital, Dowling said, has hired more than 130 employees and continues to recruit physicians, nurses and staff for other positions.
More staffing will be necessary, he said, to eventually treat patients in all 158 beds that Community Hospital was licensed for before it shut down.
“That’s been a challenge across the entire region,” he said. “We’ll need to ensure adequate staff levels to see what beds in what departments can be brought on board, so there isn’t necessarily a timeline right now.”
Officials do expect, though, that Community Hospital’s emergency room department can reopen in March.
Monday’s news came two-and-a-half years after the hospital shut down in the summer of 2018, after its former operator, MemorialCare, determined a state-required seismic retrofit would be too costly for the facility to remain financially viable.
Long Beach owns the property, so leaders quickly sought to find a new operator that would commit to reopening the hospital, which had the only emergency room serving East Long Beach. It found that operator in the newly formed MWN, and the two sides negotiated a lease agreement that the City Council approved in October 2019.
The company has pushed to reopen the facility ever since, with many missed self-imposed deadlines. When MWN was chosen to run the hospital, officials said they hoped to open the facility’s doors by Jan. 1, 2019.
Two years later, Dowling said, the folks behind Community Hospital believe the facility’s reopening is finally on track.
“The reopening process has been smooth,” he said, “and we’re ready to serve.”