Long Beach officials are seeking ways to implement urgent-care services to underserved communities, specifically in areas in the northern and western parts of town.
In a Feb. 3 memo, it was reported that an absence of acute-care facilities is causing residents to seek non-life threatening treatment at emergency rooms, especially in north and west Long Beach, overwhelming services and extending wait times. The City believes implementing urgent care in those communities would provide folks with affordable costs, evening and weekend hours and shorter wait times.
Patricia Diefenderfer, Advance Planning officer with the Department of Development Services Planning Bureau, said there are a number of land-use recommendations and incentives the City is in the process of analyzing as potential solutions.
“We were trying to create some new zones, and rezone properties in that area consistent with our newly adopted general plan,” Diefenderfer said. “In doing that outreach in the community, we talked to community people about what kind of land use do they want in their neighborhood, […] and urgent care and medical services came up in those discussions.”
City officials are considering amending a zoning ordinance that would define areas for urgent-care use, without having to undergo a lengthy process of review. Currently, urgent-care facilities must acquire administrative use permits or conditional use permits to operate.
The memo states that further review must take place in order for the City to understand what the tradeoff would be to alter the current zoning regulation.
Another angle the City could take to streamline land-use incentives would be to reduce parking requirements at new or existing urgent-care facilities. Diefenderfer said it is expensive to provide parking, and reducing it would also activate commercial corridors.
Currently, urgent-care facilities require 13 parking spots, however, the City added that by aligning parking regulations with those of medical offices, then only five parking spots are required.
Another issue large parking requirements create is a lack of flexibility. Typically, office spaces being changed into medical facilities require more parking spaces to be added on, but the lot on which the office space was built may not physically allow for more parking to be added.
The City said that this lack of flexibility creates vacant storefronts.
Another challenge is attracting healthcare providers to operate in low-income, underserved communities in Long Beach. Companies that operate urgent-care facilities rely on reimbursements from insurance companies to offset care costs. Although the City acknowledges that low-income communities often need urgent care, these neighborhoods also tend to have less insured residents, making it difficult to attract healthcare operators, as detailed in the memo.
The City suggests that enrolling patients into programs such as Affordable Care would increase the pool of medical providers in the area.
The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services reported in the memo that Medicaid and Medicare do not provide sufficient reimbursements to cover urgent care, and it suggested public funding to cover the healthcare costs. However, the City stated that it is “not in a position” to subsidize urgent care visits, and added that federal funding could potentially be used to cover the costs.
Moving forward, the parking and zoning regulations are being considered in the zoning ordinance study for north Long Beach called the UPLAND. It will be presented to the Planning Commission sometime this spring.