MemorialCare has had a tumultuous year in Long Beach, seeing state investigations and an unexpected leadership shakeup while staff grapple with sporadic surges in myriad illnesses.
Hospital workers at Memorial Medical Center in Long Beach and throughout the greater Long Beach area saw the sharpest surge in coronavirus cases to date early this year. As of mid-December, 44,316 new daily cases were reported in January, accounting for more than 28% of the city’s total reported COVID-19 cases.
Hospitalizations from COVID, as well as deaths, also rose at the start of the year, but haven’t come close to the January 2021 highs, the city’s deadliest period during the pandemic.
On April 15, Memorial reported no coronavirus patients for the first time in two years.
However, in February and March, a series of patient care lapses that resulted in the deaths of two patients led to a series of investigations into MemorialCare’s Long Beach campus operations.
California Department of Public Health inspectors spent nine days at the hospital — from April 12 to April 20 — in response to complaints from Rosemary Davis, a 60-year-old Long Beach resident who said her mother was injured by the patient’s care. Bad luck died in the hospital. Inspectors identified a series of problems at Memorial, including two cases of immediate danger.
Davis alleges that hospital staff administered a chemotherapy drug commonly prescribed to breast cancer patients to her mother, her admission to the hospital for heart-related health problems, and other alleged lapses in care.
Eventually, Davis’ mother contracted septic shock. She died in February.
Just the next month, a second immediate danger incident occurred, when a dementia patient was admitted to their assisted living facility after a fall. Despite being classified as “high risk of falling”, the elderly patient fell again in hospital while trying to walk unaided.
The CDPH report found that a second fall fractured the patient’s hip, and an orthopedic surgeon recommended a procedure that was recognized as risky but of no avail. No surgery was performed and the patient was placed in “hospice”. They died on March 19.
The state’s report led to a series of other investigations by the Joint Commission, the California Board of Pharmacy, the state board of registered nurses and the state board of medicine.
Memorial CEO John Bishop and Chief Operating Officer Ike Mmeje unexpectedly resigned less than two weeks after Southern California News Corp. reported the death and the initial investigation. Hospital officials declined to comment on whether there was a link between the two incidents.
Mmeje left in August, while Bishop stayed on while a successor was found.
The year wasn’t all trouble for Memorial, however. In October, Memorial announced it was restructuring its leadership team and creating a new position as it continues its search for a new CEO. The new positions include chief nursing executive, chief strategy officer and full-time CEO of Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital.
Finally, after four months of an extensive search, the hospital announced this month that Blair Kent would be the district’s next chief executive. Kent most recently served as CEO of Intermountain Medical Center near Salt Lake City, Utah’s largest hospital.
The healthcare provider also expanded its offerings this year to include Long Beach Maternity Care at a new location at 5977 Spring St. The site has eight exam rooms, laboratory services, and two OB-GYNs. It began accepting patients in October.
The hospital also announced it will open a clinic on the Cal State Long Beach campus through a new partnership to combine education with practice and increase the region’s healthcare workforce. The 15,000-square-foot clinic will be located on the ground floor of a new building for the School of Health and Human Services, with construction expected to begin in summer 2024.
Now, as the end of the year approaches, hospital staff are grappling with yet another surge in COVID-19. While the rate of spread of the disease isn’t anywhere near what it was at the start of the year, outbreaks of influenza and RSV are also much higher than usual.
The three diseases create a “triple epidemic,” said Dr. Graham Tse, chief COVID physician at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and chief medical officer at Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital. Xie said the number of people hospitalized with the flu hit a 10-year high.