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EDITORIAL:Cinderella story for hospital

Times are very tough for hospitals in Southern California and beyond, but the news from South Coast Medical Center is spectacularly good: the hospital is on the mend.

The hospital has weathered a difficult period over the past few years, as have most medical facilities that struggle with nonpaying patients and low-paying health insurers as well as the high cost of the doctors and nurses who perform the miracles of healing.

The nonprofit Adventist Health, a church-affiliated entity, has owned the hospital since the mid-1990s. In mid-2005, Adventist put the beleaguered hospital up for sale after intense opposition to its announced plans to move it out of Laguna Beach.

One of the problems for the hospital is that health administrators see it as poorly situated for a hospital because it’s on the coast, not in the middle of a sea of potential patients. Demographics apparently trump ocean view.

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About a year later, in May 2006, the firm inexplicably took the facility off the market — just before it was to go to a Tennessee holding company that would likely have taken it into the for-profit realm and opened up a whole new can of worms.

The community was delighted, of course, but held its breath to see if yet another nurse’s shoe would drop.

Eight months later, the hospital has experienced a remarkable turnaround, and, like Cinderella’s slipper in the end, the nurse’s shoe is firmly planted on the foot.

The half-decade-old hospital is climbing out of the red — and that’s only one of the good things happening there.

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Ironically, improvements intended to make it attractive to a new owner have helped turn the medical center around, with more doctors, more patients and enough “business” to put it on a solid financial footing.

Even the hospital food has been upgraded, with a new chef whose specialty is “gourmet” hospital fare — shown off at a recent luncheon of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. Many employees said they no longer go out for lunch because they’d rather eat in the hospital cafeteria. Wow!

But that’s not all.

Hospital CEO Bruce Christian has announced a plan that could put the hospital on a rock-solid foundation for its next 50 years.

Christian is in discussions with a senior assisted-living firm that could lead to a redevelopment of the aging hospital facility and meet the mandate of the state’s seismic standards for hospitals, which must be upgraded in order to remain in operation.

Christian said he came to Laguna at the behest of Adventist to turn the hospital over to a new owner but with the idea in the back of his mind that it could — and should — be salvaged.

The placement of a hospital on the Pacific Ocean doesn’t bother Christian. He sees the view as a good thing, a way to attract paying customers.

Christian, who has a spiritual zeal to his leadership style, says he believes “this is where God wants” him to be. We’re not going to try to read the mind of the Creator, but this is certainly where Laguna wants him. Christian deserves huge thanks from the community for performing his own healthcare miracle.

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