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By Eric Heinz
San Clemente’s only hospital is nearing its last days.
Earlier this month, Save San Clemente Hospital sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown imploring some kind of intervention to the closure of the hospital.
Because the hospital is a private nonprofit operating under the MemorialCare health care umbrella, state intervention isn’t really possible, according to officials with the California Department of Public Health.
“The department does not have authority to force a facility to continue operations or require a facility to continue to provide optional services such as emergency services,” CDPH officials said in an email on Monday.
Online Update: On Wednesday, after press time, Dr. Gus Gialamas, who has been fighting with the Save San Clemente Hospital, provided the San Clemente Times with an ex-parte preliminary injunction filed on behalf of him, Dr. Steve Cullen and Terri Anne Plunkett.
The motion claims the California Department of Public Health “failed to perform legal its legal obligations” to approve or disprove the closure of Saddleback Memorial Medical Center until it had collected necessary information regarding the effects of the closure.
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Friday, May 27 in the Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.
Wednesday afternoon, OCEMS announced the hospital will divert all ambulance transfers to other hospitals as of 7 p.m. Friday, May 27.
In January, the California Legislature did not pass bills that would have allowed for a freestanding emergency room and satellite hospital, which hospital officials said would take the burden off of specific inpatient services. Then after the city passed a zoning ordinance that required the hospital to provide emergency services, MemorialCare sued the city for $42.5 million in potential losses. The case is currently in litigation.
According to the Emergency Impact Report submitted by the Orange County Emergency Medical Services to the California Department of Health, the county has determined there are adequate facilities within reach of San Clemente—Mission Hospital, Mission Laguna and Saddleback Memorial Laguna Hills—would be sufficient locations.
Those hospitals are located 15 to 22 minutes from the borders of San Clemente.
“Basically (the report) pointed out the fact that we’re not a designated trauma center, a designated cardio center and we don’t have inpatient site OB/GYN services, and because of that what I read was the impact was minimal on the County EMS services,” said Tony Struthers, the administrator of the San Clemente hospital.
Councilman Chris Hamm, an Orange County Fire Authority firefighter and EMT, disagrees with that notion, saying it will be a “dangerous day” when the hospital closes.
Struthers said MemorialCare has continued to work with agencies to be accommodating and provide service up until the hospital closes at 11:59 p.m. on May 30.
The hospital’s current license to run an acute care facility expires at the stroke of midnight May 31.
“CDPH has been in our facilities to ensure themselves that the care we’re delivering is still at its standards,” Struthers said. “We’ve been working with them to show them we’re meeting all those regulations with an acute care hospital. And we’re working with OCEMS on developing the transition plan for over Memorial Day Weekend and transport of patients.”
Currently, the city is trying to persuade another medical provider to make an offer on the hospital, but Struthers said no negotiations have taken place.
“Anybody who had made a request, we’ve sent it off to the CFO to evaluate those offers,” Struthers said, adding that the providers who have made offers have been told MemorialCare is waiting to see the results of its lawsuit.
Struthers also said about half the employees from Saddleback Memorial Medical Center have been retained within the MemorialCare network. He said the goal is to keep everyone, and MemorialCare is continuing to work to find a place for everyone who is still seeking employment with them.
“We will continue to serve San Clemente and the surrounding communities through our numerous locations that include physician health centers, urgent care centers, ambulatory surgery centers, imaging centers with comprehensive technology like MRIs and CT scans, breast centers, dialysis centers and other programs and services,” Struthers said.
Saddleback Memorial Medical Center began the process of suggesting converting the location into an advanced urgent care facility in 2014, but public opinion did not accept that. In 2015, the hospital met with various state representatives and lobbied for the legislation to allow for freestanding emergency rooms.