Updated: Hospital Receives Windfall Gift

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Laguna Beach hospital received gift from Bill and Sue Gross.
Bill and Sue Gross made a $10 million gift to Mission Hospital Laguna Beach.

Local philanthropists Sue and Bill Gross donated $10 million to support expansion and advances in emergency room technology in their hometown hospital.

In recognition of the gift, the department will be renamed the Sue and Bill Gross Emergency Department at Mission Hospital Laguna Beach, the hospital foundation announced Tuesday.

Their contribution comprises the largest donation ever to a Laguna Beach organization, said Dan Pingaro, executive director of the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, which distributes donor gifts to charities.

The couple’s gift will allow Mission Hospital Laguna Beach to upgrade imaging technology, accommodate more patients and create individual treatment areas that maintain patient privacy, the foundation statement says. The department serves about 12,000 patients per year, though many potential patients are diverted to its sister campus in Mission Viejo, a designated trauma center, which treats the critically injured.

“It’s economics, location and population that are necessary to support a hospital,” said Jane Egly, who with former City Council colleague Cheryl Kinsman helped woo Mission Hospital in 2009 to buy former South Coast Medical Center, which had $35 million in debt at the time and was owned and operated by Adventist Health.

The deal approved by then Deputy Attorney General Wendi Horwitz required that Mission continue to provide emergency services through December 2012.

Egly believes the Gross family gift “was to help us make sure we have an ER,” pointing out the economic pressures on a physically isolated facility that local leaders deemed a necessity in a town with a huge influx of tourists. The hospital admitted 4,700 patients in 2007, with 25 percent from outside the south-county area, says a document from the sales.

The shooting death of a local police officer who did not reach medical aid in time sparked community backing for building the hospital, which opened in 1959 when no similar facilities existed in the south-county area.

Kenneth D. McFarland, president and chief executive officer of Mission Hospital, said in a statement, “I am inspired and humbled by the philanthropic leadership and compassion of Sue and Bill Gross.” McFarland was unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman said.

“Their incredibly generous gift will have an immediate and substantial impact on the delivery of exceptional health care in Laguna Beach and the surrounding communities,” McFarland’s statement said.

Maintaining emergency services played a crucial role in rallying community backing for the sale to Mission Hospital, founded in 1971, and now part of the St. Joseph Health System and Hoag Health network. Mission, whose two campuses combined have 552 beds and 2,500 employees with $455 million in patient revenue, is one of four St. Joseph’s hospitals in  Southern California, says a 2011 financial statement.

“Laguna Beach is our home and we wanted to help ensure that our community has access to emergency services locally,” Sue Gross, president of her family foundation, said in a statement. “We feel privileged to have an opportunity to partner with Mission Hospital Laguna Beach and to help care for our community.”

The Gross foundation, endowed with $388 million and based in Albany, N.Y., made $16 million in gifts in 2012, the most recent figures available from tax filings. UC Irvine Foundation received the second largest gift that year at $4 million. Previous beneficiaries have included Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, each the recipient of $20 million gifts.

Gross said he and his wife had committed to giving away all their money before they die, Forbes magazine reported in November 2013. The family declined further comment, a hospital foundation spokeswoman said.

Gross, a legendary bond investor, founded Pacific Investment Management Company in Newport Beach, but left on Sept. 26 to join Janus Capital Group. His new office is also in Fashion Island.

Imaging technology is critical in caring for emergency medicine patients and the Gross’ gift will fund improved patient comfort and convenience, says a hospital statement.

McFarland said the Gross foundation gift brings Mission Hospital closure to completing its $200 million campaign. The campaign focuses on advanced technology and facilities, nursing excellence, community benefit programs, and endowment growth.

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