By Jim Shilander
Although there were no representatives from Saddleback Memorial Medical Center present at its initial meeting, San Clemente’s new Hospital Advisory Committee met for the first time Tuesday, outlining its agenda going forward in an attempt to further study the hospital’s proposal to eliminate its emergency room facility—the nearest hospital and ER to Dana Point.
The committee includes city of San Clemente staff, along with public safety representatives and hospital staff and is charged with getting information not just about the viability of the proposed changes to the hospital, but also whether there were any options Saddleback could consider to keep the facility open.
Much of the work of the committee will be researching the viability of the current hospital and seeking potential alternatives to the proposal, which includes razing the current building at the end of 2015 and rebuilding on the same site as an advanced urgent care center. The proposal would eliminate the current emergency room as well. Currently, urgent care centers are not capable of taking patients from ambulances. The potential impact on other area hospitals, as well as the effect on patients from San Clemente, will be among the topics studied by the group.
The immediate concern of many at the meeting, however, was keeping the hospital viable. Current hospital staff said that due to the uncertainty surrounding the future, the hospital had been losing staff.
Orange County Fire Authority Chief Kirk Wells said the OCFA was examining the impact of the proposal and would present finding to the City Council at a later date.
Members of the committee, including Dr. Gus Gialamas, and Dr. Steve Cullen, an alternate, said the committee should ask Memorial Care to delay its decision on whether to go forward with the proposal until the end of 2015, to allow more time to research alternatives. Gialamas said the group had also reneged on promises to make economic investments in the hospital and to increase doctor recruiting efforts since it was purchased from a group of doctors.
The committee has two additional meetings scheduled at the San Clemente Community Center, located at 100 Calle Seville, on Thursday, Nov. 20, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Wednesday, Dec. 17, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. A fourth meeting may also be scheduled. City officials said Saddleback representatives should be at those meetings.