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Christian resigns from job

Bruce Christian will end his long association with South Coast Medical Center on March 15.

Christian announced his resignation as president to the hospital staff Feb. 20, terminating an association that began about 18 years ago, when he served first as a business consultant and then as a board member at the request of Adventist Health. His association with Adventist goes back even further to his school days.

“We appreciate the leadership, hard work and dedication that Bruce has provided to SCMC during his tenure as CEO,” said Robert G. Carmen, president and chief executive of Adventist and chairman of the medical center board.

Christian announced his resignation on the day that Adventist submitted terms of an agreement to sell South Coast to Mission Regional Medical Center, which must be approved by the state attorney general’s office.

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Unlike his predecessor, Gary Irish, Christian will not be hired at another Adventist hospital at this time. “[There are] no future employment plans as of this time,” Adventist spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez said. “However, Bruce and Adventist Health may consider other options in the future — that is true of any potential employee.

“Right now, Bruce, along with other administrative team members are focused on hospital operations and a smooth executive transition.”

Christian was unavailable for comment.

“Bruce fought to save the hospital and he is one of the main reasons we still have it, with a good new owner,” former Mayor Cheryl Kinsman said.

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Medical Center Chaplain Bucky Weeks, who was brought on board by Christian, expressed sadness at Christian’s decision to leave before the transfer to the Mission license is completed, although his own future with Adventist is uncertain.

“I am here for the next three months,” Weeks said. “At least, that is my plan. But I really hate to see Bruce leave, and I hope the community expresses its appreciation for what Bruce has done at South Coast.”

Christian was chosen by Adventist in 2005 as “uniquely qualified” to negotiate a sale, according to a center News Room release. After hearing the community outcry, Christian convinced Adventist and the center board to hang on to the center.

In any case there were no viable buyers at the time, Weeks said. St. Joseph Health System, parent of Mission, came calling, but just didn’t like what they saw.

“This time, they saw something different,” Weeks said.

Christian’s efforts to revitalize the hospital included convincing City Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson to close her marketing business and hire on as executive director of the center’s fund-raising foundation in March 2007.

During Christian’s tenure, the hospital was refurbished with new paint and flooring in hopes of attracting more patients; the gift shop was redesigned by Christian’s wife; and art work, chosen by her, hung on corridor walls.

Under his direction, the hospital brought in a new radiology group to operate the department and Joseph M. Ruggio, who was named 2007 Physician of the Year by the California Chapter of the American College of Cardiology, and his group, Pacific Cardiovascular Associates, opened offices on the hospital campus,

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Money was to be raised for the purchase of a $3-million linear accelerator, a so-called “radiation zapper.”

However, in April 2008, a teary-eyed Christian announced the closing of the hospital’s highly regarded, but costly, birthing center. Christian said the decision was personally grievous, even though appropriate to better serve the hospital’s patient base.

Funds saved by the closure would be redirected toward services that focus on baby boomers and seniors, the primary users of the hospital, Christian said.

However, by August of last year, rumors about a sale were bouncing around town and a tight lipped City Council began holding closed sessions identified as related to the hospital and the property on which it sits.

Christian was mum on the subject, but still conducting tours of his spiffed-up fiefdom.

In September, Adventist confirmed the rumor, stating it would no longer support the annual losses and again put the center and its assets on the auction block. The foundation which raised funds for the not-for-profit hospital was shut down and its assets assumed by Adventist, to the consternation of members of the foundation board and the public.

A deal to sell the hospital to Mission Hospital was announced Feb. 6., three days before Adventist informed families of long-term patients in the sub-acute care unit they had 30 days to find other accommodations.

Adventist Health Vice President Teresa Day will manage the transaction process for South Coast, Gonzalez said. Chief Operating Officer Andrea Kofl will oversee day-to-day operations.

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Long history ends

Christian practically grew up in Adventist Health system. He began his association with Adventist with a mop and pail. While still a high school student, he scrubbed floors at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio. As a young adult he worked as business manager at Adventist hospitals in Michigan and Florida.

After Florida, Christian joined Adventist Health Systems/Sunbelt, where he served as assistant administrator of a medical center in Nashville, Tenn. He stayed there for 2 1/2 years before moving to California, where he spent the next five years as administrator of Glendale Adventist Medical Center’s Chevy Chase facility.

In 1982, while still working in Glendale, Christian started a consulting business, which eventually claimed him full time and which he still owns.

Christian’s firm contacted more than 150 hospitals nationwide, including South Coast Medical Center, when Adventist took over the Laguna Beach campus in 1998. Carmen asked Christian to sit on the hospital board.

Community leaders can take credit for the original facility. Outraged in 1954 when a wounded Laguna Beach police officer did not survive the trip to the nearest hospital — some 25 miles away from town — they committed themselves to build and maintain a hospital to serve Laguna and nearby South County communities. Dana Point and Laguna Niguel were not yet cities at the time.

Land for the hospital was donated the Irvine Family Foundation and residents raised the money — donor names are on a wall of honor — to build the not-for-profit hospital.

South Coast Hospital admitted its first patient in July 1959. After expansion, the 208-bed facility was renamed South Coast Medical Center.

South Coast Medical Center serves Laguna Beach, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and Aliso Viejo.


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


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