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St. Mary to close pediatric unit, partner with Miller Children’s amid transition

The 100-year-old Long Beach hospital is citing the continued decline of its pediatric patient volumes as the reason for the closure.

St. Mary to close pediatric unit, partner with Miller Children’s amid transition
The main entrance of St. Mary Medical Center. Courtesy of St. Mary.

The pediatric unit at St. Mary Medical Center will  permanently shutter July 1, the hospital announced Monday.

The decision to close the unit comes after “careful consideration and evaluation” of community needs for pediatric services and patient volumes, which have drastically fallen over the years, hospital data shows. Over the last several years, the unit’s occupancy rate has decreased from 9% to less than 1%, hospital spokesperson Christina Zicklin told the Watchdog Monday.

“At St. Mary Medical Center, prioritizing safe, exceptional care guides every decision we make,” CEO Carolyn Caldwell said in a statement. “With this in mind, we have made the difficult decision to close our pediatric unit.”

The landscape of pediatric health care has shifted over the years, with more families seeking specialized children’s hospitals or urgent care centers, according to the announcement. The shift has made it difficult for the hospital to maintain patient volumes and staffing levels.

There are only eight free-standing children’s hospitals across the state, according to the California Children’s Hospital Association, including Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Long Beach, which opened in 1970 about two miles from St. Mary. To assist in the transition, St. Mary has partnered with Miller Children’s, which will assume the care of the young patients.

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“Our commitment to providing exceptional pediatric care remains steadfast, and we are dedicated to ensuring a seamless experience for patients and families transitioning from St. Mary Medical Center,” said Blair Kent, CEO of Miller Children’s and Long Beach Medical Center. “Together, we look forward to continuing to serve the Long Beach community with compassion and excellence.”

In addition to the children’s hospital, MemorialCare’s Long Beach campus also includes the Cherese Mari Laulhere Children’s Village, which opened in February 2021. The facility offers comprehensive pediatric health care, with more than 25 specialties such as allergy and immunology, cardiology, neurology, surgery and more.

The Children’s Village also has a laboratory, pharmacy, imaging, rehabilitation gyms and family support services, such as education and resources centers.

Due to the gradual decline in pediatric patient volumes, staffing levels also have dwindled in the unit. Because of that, the number of employees affected by the closure is “very limited,” Zicklin said, adding that “we are working with those employees through this transition.”

St. Mary will continue to provide care to children in its emergency department, the announcement stated.

The closure will allow the hospital to focus its efforts on other areas of care, Caldwell noted.

“While the closure of our pediatric unit is underway, St. Mary is focusing on expanding and enhancing our NeuroScience service line,” Caldwell said. “We are constructing a new biplane (3D-imaging system) suite, which will significantly enhance our ability to deliver advanced stroke care.”

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