Hospital Makes Good on Rx for Longevity

Mission Hospital Laguna Beach
Mission Hospital Laguna Beach

Making good on growth plans outlined in 2011, Mission Hospital Laguna Beach will begin a $15 million seismic retrofitting project next week to bring its patient building up to state-mandated quake standards.

Michael Beck, vice president of operations at the Laguna campus, informed the City Council on Tuesday of construction plans.

Since Orange-based St. Joseph Health acquired the hospital more than four years ago, administrators knew renovations must be completed on two of the hospital’s buildings to comply with new standards by 2015 if they wanted to continue offering critical and acute care services, services the state requires be provided by any hospital operating an emergency room.

City Manager John Pietig noted that when the former South Coast Medical Center went up for sale, twice, “we were all very concerned about having an emergency room during a disaster,” and he praised the hospital administrators for their investment.

“This is a substantial commitment to keep the community hospital functional with an emergency room for a number of years,” he said. “I think it’s fantastic, and frankly even better than we hoped for at the time we went though the sale.”

The imperative of retrofitting, as well as its prohibitive price tag, loomed large in 2009 when St. Joseph Health System paid $34 million for the 45-year-old, 205-bed facility that had been threatened by closure for years by its previous owner, Adventist Health. The hospital remains one of the town’s largest employers.

Beck said administrators have worked with state officials to obtain approval of the two retrofitting projects. The smaller $2.5 million project received the nod 18 months ago and they completed work in April, he said.

Now, administrators received approval on the larger project, the six-story patient care building.

Construction on the 18-month project will begin next week, said Beck. To minimize the disruption for patients, work will be divvied into three, six-month phases, beginning with the north side of the building first, then the rotunda and then finally the south side.

Though administrators don’t expect to impact the homes of residents that ring the campus, Beck said he went knocking on neighbors’ doors two weeks ago to inform them about the project and give them the chance to ask any questions. They also mailed informational fliers to any residents he was unable to catch at home. Even so, Beck said, if any issues do arise, neighbors often know first and he would appreciate phone calls letting him know.

To further minimize disruption to patients, workers will access the building from the outside via scaffolding constructed for the purpose, rather than traipsing through the corridors. The retrofit involves no new construction, only work within the building.

“It is going to be inconvenient,” Beck admitted, since once construction is underway, four to five rooms on each floor will be unavailable at any given time while the project is in progress. But there will be no disruption of emergency services during the construction, he said.

For the larger community, the scaffolding will be the only real indication that work is going on. And when the neighbors to the south see the scaffolding go up at that end of the building, they’ll know there’s only six months left, Beck promised.

Completion of the retrofit will allow the hospital to continue to offer acute and critical care services as well as an ER through 2030, at which time more demanding seismic standards will kick in that none of the seven buildings on the hospital campus meet.

A new plan, not yet envisioned, will be needed to continue services, he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson, former executive director of the defunct South Coast Medical Center Foundation, wondered whether donated funds retained for the hospital when it was purchased from the former owners helped with the retrofit.

None of the funds that remained were assigned for retrofit expenses by the attorney general, which oversaw the deal, Beck said. They are being used to replace gastrointestinal equipment and to acquire some state-of-the-art endoscopic ultrasound imaging technology unavailable elsewhere in South Orange County.

“That is a significant investment made possible by the generosity of this community over the years,” said Beck.

Administrators already have plans for the next phase of improvements, namely replacing some of their outdated breast care imaging equipment.

Such improvements appear to be on track with the some of the growth plans outlined two years ago that included developing an outpatient oncology center focusing on skin cancer, breast cancer, and gastrointestinal disorders.





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