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By Jim Shilander

Saddleback Memorial Hospital—Dana Point’s closest hospital and emergency room—began making its case for its proposed changes to its San Clemente campus Thursday at an informational open house at San Clemente Presbyterian Church.

Although attendance may have been dampened by the crane accident that snarled Interstate 5 and side streets in Capistrano Beach and San Clemente at the time, hospital staff answered resident questions and tried to get its rationale behind the proposal out to the public.

CEO Steve Geidt said most of the questions he was asked focused on the loss of the emergency room, especially what would happen in cases of heart attacks or strokes.

“We’re trying to do our best to talk about not just what we’re proposing to close, but also what we’re proposing to open,” Geidt said. “That takes a lot more imagination.”

Geidt said while the proposed advanced urgent care facility would not currently be able to take paramedic traffic, he said the facility would be open to receiving it if state rules were changed. A number of pilot projects are going on statewide to look at that possibility, including one in Huntington Beach.

Geidt said he was also emphasizing the level of care that was projected for the proposed urgent care center and that the proposal is “not a done deal.”

San Clemente residents David and Jo Ann Small were among the concerned citizens in attendance. The couple said they were of the opinion the current hospital was a good one for the area and were worried about the loss of the emergency room. They were especially concerned, they said, with the potential for additional wait time on the freeway, though they understood the issues the hospital faced with a lower patient population. The Smalls said a friend of theirs had been severely affected by a stroke as a result of not getting care in time.

Additional open houses will be scheduled in the future. The hospital’s board is on track to decide on the proposal in March.

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