Neighbors Fear Medical Center’s Expansion Plans

Times Staff Writer

Prompted by a need to increase services for sick children and cancer patients, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center has embarked on an expansion project -- one that has drawn criticism from residents who say the project will lead to the demolition of affordable housing and increase neighborhood exposure to toxic substances.

At a Saturday morning meeting near the hospital, a coalition of activists and residents renewed its call for the Long Beach City Council to postpone a vote on the proposal -- currently scheduled for Tuesday -- until such concerns are addressed.

The council vote is the last city approval needed for the expansion plan.

“Where are we going to go?” asked Jeanette Rudd, who attended the meeting organized by the Long Beach Coalition for Responsible Development. “This is very affordable for me. If I lose this place, I don’t know where I’m going to go.”


Hospital staff and city officials, however, say some of the coalition members’ concerns about nearby housing units are ill-founded -- or at least premature. If demolition is necessary, it would not take place for at least three years.

Councilwoman Laura Richardson, whose district includes the medical center, supports the project and applauded the medical center for taking steps above those required by law, including paying relocation assistance to any resident who is required to move.

“They don’t want to fight with you; they want to work with you,” Richardson, who also sits on one of the medical center’s advisory boards, told the gathering Saturday.

The controversy stems from a 15-year master plan for the expansion of the medical center, which includes two independently licensed hospitals: Miller Children’s Hospital and Long Beach Memorial.

The campus sits on 54 acres west of Long Beach Airport. The acreage also includes 13 buildings comprising 51 units of residential housing, which rent for $700 to $1,100 per month.

The impetus for the expansion project was a state regulation requiring Miller Children’s Hospital, when it became independent, to have its own operating rooms. While planning for construction, officials noticed an increased demand for services after the closure of pediatric trauma and obstetric programs at other hospitals such as Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center and St. Mary Medical Center, said Richard DeCarlo, senior vice president of operations for Miller Children’s Hospital.


The plan calls for the construction of a new Miller Children’s Hospital inpatient tower with 48 additional neonatal intensive care beds and 24 general pediatric beds. It includes a proposed Todd Cancer Institute, which would allow the medical center to treat more patients more efficiently by consolidating services in one facility.

City staff recommended that the planning commission approve the project because “the benefits to the community ... outweigh the potential impacts,” said Greg Carpenter, planning manager. But concern about the project has grown. Hospital administrators and city officials met May 23 to address issues raised by various groups, including a union seeking to organize at the hospital, DeCarlo said.

While some coalition organizers have expressed worries over the toxicity of soil at the expansion site, which is a closed landfill, the main concern has been about the loss of housing.

Rudd, who has lived in hospital-owned housing for four years, said the medical center could save some of the units if it built a multilevel parking structure, rather than the large surface parking lot now in the plan.

“What we’re proposing is not an either-or proposition: an expanded hospital or affordable housing,” said Theresa Brooks, an organizer and a respiratory therapist, who like others at the meeting said she understood the need for the expansion. “We’re not here to bash Long Beach Memorial. Our goal is to make this a better proposal.”

At one point during Saturday’s meeting, Drs. Gainer Pillsbury and Mark Roberts, both on the Miller Children’s Hospital medical staff, stopped by to allay community concerns -- and to explain how babies would benefit from the expansion. As an example, Pillsbury spoke of triplets born the night before who needed intensive care because each weighed only 1 1/2 pounds.


Roberts, who is medical director of pediatric and adolescent hematology, said more of these kinds of cases could be treated with the expansion of facilities. “Most of you don’t have a sick child in our hospital, but you wouldn’t want one to be turned away. Other hospitals can’t meet the needs, and we’re going to.”