By Councilman Chris Hamm
Since Saddleback Memorial Care first announced in 2014 its plans to close San Clemente Hospital and turn it into an urgent care, my fellow councilmembers and I have remained committed to finding a way to maintain an emergency room in San Clemente.
Joining us in our pursuit is Senator Pat Bates and Assemblyman Bill Brough, who introduced near-identical legislation in their respective governing bodies to facilitate a dialogue with their colleagues on this important issue. Senator Bates authored Senate Bill 787, and Assemblyman Brough sponsored Assembly Bill 911. Both bills are scheduled for hearings on Jan. 12 and 13 and are intended to authorize Saddleback Memorial to operate a stand-alone emergency room at its current location.
Saddleback Memorial’s plans for an urgent care facility are pending while these bills are being heard. It is important to note only a licensed acute care hospital can operate an emergency room under California law. Under the current law, Saddleback Memorial cannot delicense the acute care hospital in order to transform the campus while still keeping the emergency room open. I know the importance of having an emergency room in San Clemente, and I have seen firsthand the difference it makes between life and death. This is why I have been steadfast in doing everything I can to preserve access for our residents, and those in our neighboring cities of Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano, who have come to depend on this emergency room for more than 40 years.
Your City Council continues to support the proposed legislation, and representatives plan on attending and submitting testimony at the legislative hearings. We remain dedicated to continuing our efforts to ensure the needs of our community are not compromised. However, because we cannot predict the outcome, it is imperative that we consider possible alternatives should the legislation not pass. The City has discussed the potential rezoning of the current location and directed City staff at its Nov. 3 City Council meeting to prepare a rezone and General Plan amendment to ensure that the current hospital property is zoned only for the essential hospital purpose it was designated for when purchased by Saddleback Memorial Care in 2007. Other options include the consideration of other prospective hospital suitors to provide hospital and emergency department services.
My grandfather was born in San Clemente Hospital in 1930, our community recognized the need for advanced medical care then and we still continue to see the need today. When I ran for City Council four years ago I stressed the importance of public safety for our community, and today I will do whatever it takes to ensure our citizens get the best medical services possible.
I cannot stress enough the importance of this community issue for our overall safety and wellbeing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is the most important issue facing our community. Please join me and countless other South County residents by supporting the SOS group Save our Hospital. They are dedicated to protecting emergency care access for all.
I always enjoy hearing from you, so please email me your thoughts or concerns at HammC@san-clemente.org or call me at 949.361.8322. Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2016!
Chris Hamm is a City Councilman for San Clemente. He was elected to Council in 2012 and served as the mayor in 2015.