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Advisory body larger than needed

Mission Hospital Laguna Beach officials went “above and beyond” the attorney general’s requirement for a 15-member Community Advisory Council, appointing 24 people to a body that will meet privately to discuss hospital issues, hospital Vice President for Operations Michael Beck said Tuesday at a hospital forum.

Members of the South Laguna Civic Assn. took Beck to task over who was and was not appointed to the committee — and the fact that meetings are private — at the monthly Neighbor Forum sponsored by the hospital.

The California attorney general, which required the advisory council as one of many conditions of Mission’s purchase of the former South Coast Medical Center in April, did not require that advisory council members be made public or meetings be open to the public, said Paula Serios, vice president of marketing and communications for St. Joseph Health System, the overarching entity that operates the Catholic-affiliated hospital.

“The attorney general directed us to appoint a committee that was representative of the community served by the hospital and we talked to 225 people,” Serios said.

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The advisory council’s purpose is “to foster increased communication between Mission Hospital Laguna Beach and the coastal communities in which it serves,” according to a Nov. 16 news release from the hospital.

Beck said the committee will advise the hospital on medical services, community benefit and care for the poor.

Beck said the hospital added people beyond the 15 required to have a widely diverse panel.

But none of the appointees were members of the South Laguna Civic Assn. Board of Directors, who feel they should be represented, according to those present at the meeting.

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Association President Bill Rihn said his group, founded in 1946, had been instrumental in creating the hospital in the 1950s.

“What was the criteria for selecting the [advisory council] people?” Rihn asked. “You didn’t talk to SLCA at all.”

Ann Christoph, a former Laguna Beach mayor and association board member, complained the hospital ignored communications from the group.

“We asked you for a meeting, yet you didn’t talk to us,” she said.

Beck said he had been told that someone on the advisory council is a member of the association.

“But they’re not on the board,” Christoph said. She also argued that the advisory council meetings should be open to the public, but Serios said that was not possible.

“It’s not a public body,” Serios said.

Jinger Wallace said she was “appalled” the hospital had not sought out South Laguna Civic Assn. leaders and accused hospital officials of not responding to letters from the organization seeking an audience.

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“There will be repercussions if you alienate the community,” Wallace said.

‘Variety of stakeholders’

Beck said the hospital sought out “a variety of stakeholders,” not just those friendly to the hospital.

“There is no model for this [advisory council],” Beck said. “We’ve never had this before, nor have other health organizations we talked to. This was a different kind of animal.”

Asked if a member of the South Laguna Civic Assn. could be added, Beck said no, because the members have been appointed for their term of service.

Mission Hospital was sharply criticized in November by the City Council for not providing a list of the advisory members to the public.

A partial list of 16 names was released Nov. 25. Only those who agreed to make their names public were revealed.

Serios said that of 24 members appointed, all but “two or three” live in Laguna Beach.

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The hospital’s highest proportion of patients is from Laguna Niguel, she said. The hospital draws patients from as far south as San Clemente.

Serios said Wednesday that one of the advisory council members is an adjacent hospital neighbor, and that members serve a one-year term, with the possibility of reappointment to two subsequent terms.

New central plant

In other issues discussed at the forum, Beck said that “expedited” plans are moving forward for a new central plant, or climate control system, to eliminate the need for temporary “chillers” placed outside the building. The plans must be approved by the state, and it is hoped approvals will come through by summer and the new facility will be in place by fall.

“This is our biggest focus this year,” Beck said. The new central plant will cost between $6 million and $10 million, with ‘new technology’ that will result in a quieter system, he said.

The noise of the chillers has been a source of complaint among hospital-adjacent neighbors, some of whom filed suit in October, seeking $15 million to compensate them for alleged mismanagement of the facility, just months after Mission took over from Adventist Health.

The chillers were removed by Mission after the takeover, but were put back when it hospital staff determined they were needed to augment the climate control system. The chillers were again removed Nov. 2, Beck said.

The hospital is also in the process of determining its exact property line in order to begin trimming trees on its boundaries, Beck said.

Christoph, a landscape architect, suggested that the hospital should be very careful in the trimming of its coral trees.

“They have been badly pruned in the past,” she said.

The next Neighbor Forum will be at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19 in the hospital auditorium.



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