Mission’s Laguna Hospital Maps Out Growth Plans

A view inside a Mission Hospital operating room.

The owners of Mission Hospital Laguna Beach mapped out a plan to extend the life of the facility another 20 years by committing to making $30 million in internal improvements over four years, administrators said in a public meeting this past Tuesday.

City officials reacted with enthusiasm to the announcement, coming nearly two years after the St. Joseph Health System paid $34 million for the 45-year-old, 205-bed facility threatened by closure for years by its previous owner, Adventist Health.

“The community should be pleased; they’ve demonstrated through their planning that they’re planning on staying,” said Council member Elizabeth Pearson. Moreover, envisioned specialization areas on the campus “match the needs of the community and tell us they’ve been listening,” she said.

“The level of commitment is very striking,” added Council member Verna Rollinger, who with Pearson and colleague Jane Egly, attended the meeting.

Michael Beck

Michael Beck, vice president of operations at the Laguna campus, described to an audience of about 45 people plans to spend $18 million to retrofit the patient tower to meet state-mandated quake standards, which take affect in 2015. The figure represents a dramatically scaled-back price tag for seismic upgrades, once estimated as high as $80 million, due to changes in building technology, he said.

An additional $12 million is slated for cosmetic and equipment improvements to several floors, most significantly the vacant first floor, a former maternity center closed in 2008. Instead, administrators intend to remake the first level over during the next 18 months into a 16-bed orthopedic wing for surgeons who specialize in joint replacement and spinal procedures.

“They’ve approached us,” said Beck, who declined to further identify the physicians, who apparently already have privileges in Mission Viejo.

In a briefing earlier, business development vice president Lisa Weaver said the physicians find the area appealing because of the community’s amenities and Laguna’s under utilized six operating rooms. “They can be on the O.R. schedule in Mission Viejo and get bumped by a trauma case,” Beck said. The Mission Viejo hospital is a designated trauma center.

“These physicians were desirous of being in an attractive tourist destination that would appeal to their patients,” said Eric Jessen, a resident and member of a hospital advisory committee who attended the public briefing. The doctors are from Los Angeles-area private hospitals who treat Olympic-caliber athletes, he said.

The proposed areas of specialization emerged from a resident survey hospital administrators conducted shortly after the acquisition, he said.

In addition, administrators plan to develop an outpatient oncology center focusing on skin cancer, breast cancer, and gastrointestinal disorders, possibly on the second floor, Beck said. Vacant office space in an upper-level office building is envisioned for an expansion of the drug and substance abuse treatment facility, now also on the second floor, he said.

Some unbudgeted renovations to the existing behavioral health wing began in October, based on advice from experts, Beck said. These included changes such as enclosing plumbing fixtures and bolting beds to the floor, preventative safety measures, he said.

Other improvements have already begun, such as landscaping, relocating MRI equipment and temporary chillers, Beck said.

As many as seven different potential strategies for the Laguna facility were analyzed by Mission administrators, he said, including scaling back to 12 patient beds, the minimum required by state regulators in order to keep the emergency room open. Given 18,000 homes slated for the new community of Mission Viejo Ranch, “to downsize here would make us need more beds there,” he said, referring to the Mission Viejo hospital. A new freestanding, 45-bed hospital would cost $120 million, Beck said.

Retrofitting rather than rebuilding allows hospital administrators to develop specialty clinics, Jessen pointed out. “They’re willing to make the investment that only has a useful life of 19 years,” he said.

In fact, the 20-year-plan leaves unanswered what happens to the facility in 2030, since none of the seven buildings on the campus meet more demanding seismic standards that take affect then. “Chances are it won’t be lived out as we described it,” said Beck, suggesting the stricter regulations could be rolled back.

About 80 percent of the state’s hospitals are working towards compliance with 2015 standards, the 430-member California Hospital Association said in a report last month. “The assumption is to meet the 2030 standards, every hospital will have to rebuild,” said association spokeswoman Jan Emerson Shea. Deadlines may be extended for hospitals in jeopardy, she said. Prior to the recession, some hospital groups began pursuing upgrades to 2030 standards, she said.

Rather than focus beyond 2030, Mission’s plans are guided by current community health needs, anticipated growth in the south-county area, and fiscally prudent business ideas, Beck said. “The biggest need is wellness; the state is no longer providing flu vaccinations,” he pointed out. “We want to have a role in that.”

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