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Sale terms agreed upon

The state attorney general’s approval of the terms for South Coast Medical Center’s sale hammered out behind closed doors between Mission Hospital and Adventist Health is all that stands in the way of the deal.

Officials of Mission Hospital, which is a member of the St. Joseph Health Care System, and Adventist Health jointly announced the provisional sale in a press release issued Friday and expressed optimism that the attorney general’s office will approve the transaction. The release went on to say that both organizations believe the sale serves the best interest of the South Orange County coastal community and look forward to a successful transition.

“We are going to get a full-service hospital as good or better than the one we have,” said former Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman, who announced the provisional sale with Councilwoman Jane Egly on Friday at the annual Mayor’s Luncheon at the Laguna Beach Woman’s Club, held to honor Egly.

“And without Jane, it wouldn’t have been possible,” Kinsman said.

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Mission Hospital will manage and operate South Coast Medical Center when — and if — the terms of sale are approved. The approval process is expected to take between three and four months.

Details of the agreement have not been made public, but the attorney general’s office will hold at least one local public meeting after completing a study of the proposed sale, said Assistant City Manager John Pietig, who participated with Egly and Kinsman in joint meetings.

Mission officials will continue during the review process to determine services, staffing needs and a new name for the South Laguna campus according to a hospital update. Emergency, intensive care and medical/surgical services as well as their ancillary support will continues. Other services are being considered.

In the throes of South Coast’s financial melt-down under Adventist ownership, the center discontinued its birthing center, including midwifery services not readily available elsewhere, and disbanded the hospital’s fund-raising Foundation and absorbed its assets, to the distress of members of the foundation board and the public. Staff members were cut.

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Mission reportedly bid $35.7 million for the facility, not an easy decision in these economic times, according to hospital staff, but decided to pursue the opportunity to extend the Sisters of St. Joseph’s healing ministry deeper into communities already served.

Egly and Kinsman worked together on a City Council sub-committee augmented by Pietig for more than four years, to keep South Coast Medical Center in Laguna, coping with a putative move out of town, the threat of dismembering the campus and selling off parts or just shutting down the whole shebang.

Even before the sub-committee was formed, Kinsman identified the retention of the hospital in the early 2000s as her key goal while on the council. She famously vowed to strap herself to the tower on the campus if an attempt was made to demolish the campus or move it out of town.

Keeping the award-winning emergency room in operation was her major concern.

An emergency room by state law cannot stand alone. Surgical and post-surgical care is required. South Coast’s ER does not accept major trauma patients, who are taken to hospitals such as Mission.

“It is very gratifying to see that our efforts will ensure that quality emergency medical care will be retained in Laguna Beach for years to come,” Kinsman said on learning that Adventist had accepted Mission’s bid.

Egly and Kinsman commended officials of Adventist, South Coast Medical Center, St. Joseph and Mission Hospital, for the hundreds of hours they spent putting this transaction together.

“We look forward to working with St. Joseph Health System and Mission Hospital to make South Coast Medical Center the best that it can be,” Egly said.

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BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 380-4321 or coastlinepilot@latimes.com.


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