CMC is Meeting the Behavioral Health Needs of LA County

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In 2013, College Medical Center (CMC) acquired the assets that had been Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, Calif. Pacific Hospital had served the workers-comp and spinal-surgery needs of the Long Beach patient population for more than half a century. CMC transitioned the organization to a true community hospital and established a unique partnership with Molina Healthcare to manage the acute-care side of the center.

Opening a new hospital

Joe Avelino, RN, BSN, MHSA, CPHQ, was hired as the hospital’s chief executive officer in August 2013, just as the organization was preparing to unveil its new hospital building on Oct. 9.

His first few months were hectic, as numerous deadlines had to be met in order to secure the proper licensing for operation.

CMC’s psychiatrist call panel was officially established on Oct. 18. On Oct. 29, CMC was issued its own CMS Certification Number (CCN) for Medicare funding. The state-required LPS designation came on Nov. 19, enabling the organization’s psychiatric emergency team (PET) to travel to other ERs, nursing homes, clinics, and hospitals to conduct psychiatric evaluation assessments.

In opening the new hospital, behavioral-health services became a centerpiece of CMC’s service line. The hospital began promoting its first Patient Access or intake 800 number on Dec. 2, equipping it to receive behavioral-health referrals from other ERs.

CMC also began managing the local transportation services for ambulance and for non-emergent house and access services. Avelino said having the services in-house has helped with turnaround times and with efficiency in patients being admitted to CMC.

Two years later, the behavioral-health service line has proven itself to be a necessary and successful component of CMC’s footprint within a highly competitive marketplace. In fact, the organization is planning to add another 64 beds for behavioral health on top of its current 73 beds for a total of 137 behavioral-health beds.

However, not having enough behavioral-health beds is an ongoing struggle, Avelino said. “The demand is phenomenal with regards to behavioral health.”

Partnering with Molina Healthcare

College Medical Center’s ER is also busy. With only seven beds, the hospital still manages an average of 1200 to 1300 visits each month.

Per a management-service agreement, Molina Healthcare oversees the hospital’s acute-care services. Avelino said having two employers in one building was challenging at first, but he and Molina’s chief administrative officer work together to communicate the operational challenges in the emergency department and to identify patients with multiple diagnoses who are in need of acute-care and/or behavioral-health services.

“We have a daily huddle to discuss operational issues and challenges within the acute-care services and the behavioral-health services,” he said. “We negotiate, and we work it out. We had some growing pains when we started out, like anything else, but we’ve really established a nice collaborative partnership.”

Cultivating a culture of camaraderie

Avelino first networked with CMC while he was serving as chief executive officer at Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center. After two years as CEO, Avelino’s enthusiasm for CMC is effusive.

“I tell people I’m going to retire here,” he said. “We have a great culture.”

In addition to providing high-quality care, the leadership goes out of its way to foster a spirit of community and camaraderie among its employees and medical staff.

Its community outreach efforts are also laudable. For example, CMC has partnered with Jackie Robinson Academy, a local school that is located across the street from the hospital, to provide gift baskets for needy families. Turning it into a friendly competition, CMC had 13 of its departments each design a gift basket that was then donated to the school.

“We do a lot of those things,” Avelino said. “There’s an old adage, ‘To whom much is given much is expected,’ so I’m really fortunate we are an organization that is able to give back to our community. It’s very exciting.”

With the new facility an overwhelming success, Avelino and his leadership team continue to struggle to maintain pace with CMC’s rapidly expanding behavioral-health patient volume.

Even though on paper, CMC’s service area is limited to Los Angeles County, Avelino said the hospital has received behavioral-health patients from Riverside, Orange County, and even the San Francisco-Reno area, which is a good seven to eight hours away.

“College Medical Center has created a workplace environment where employees are trusted and valued, where communication is constant and clear, and morale is high,” Avelino said. “That is a tall order in an industry that is rapidly changing and under intense financial pressure. If you have a culture where employees are happy, it’s a domino effect on your patient care. If you have that kind of work environment, they can’t help but treat their patients in a positive, caring manner.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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