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By Eric Heinz
After 18 months of efforts to try to keep MemorialCare’s Saddleback Memorial Medical Center open in San Clemente, officials announced Wednesday they will close the campus on May 31.
In a statement released by Saddleback Memorial Medical Center administrator Tony Struthers, he stated the health care provider will continue to examine possibilities of providing urgent care to San Clemente residents, but the hospital services will cease May 31.
“At this point, we will continue to provide ongoing medical and emergency services,” Struthers said in an email Wednesday afternoon, adding the services will continue for at least 90 days.
Struthers said the hospital will continue to meet with local officials and agencies to plan “a transition of services.”
MemorialCare officials have said since August 2014 the current hospital model was not feasible to keep open because of declining inpatient numbers, which fund a great portion of the hospital.
Originally the hospital came up with proposals to establish a large outpatient urgency care center in the hospital’s place, but that was dismissed by community members as not being adequate medical services for San Clemente.
Officials then made a legislative effort to allow for a free-standing, or “boutique” or “satellite” hospital, with fewer amenities but similar emergency services hospitals offer. This is currently not legal under California law.
Assemblyman Bill Brough and State Sen. Patricia Bates introduced separate bills in their respective houses to try to change that law, but both bills died in committee in January. Following that defeat, the city of San Clemente enacted a zoning ordinance to require the owner of the land to provide emergency services.
In a joint statement, Bates and Brough said they were disappointed with the hospital’s decision and will pursue further options by “consulting with community members to find a realistic solution that works for the region.”
The San Clemente Hospital was built in 1971 and at one point provided more than 105 beds. Today, it has 73 beds. Struthers said the hospital was averaging 11.6 inpatients a day before the closure. A total of 16 inpatient surgeries were done in February, less than one per day, and outpatient surgeries totaled 56 in that month.
The nearest hospitals to San Clemente that provide emergency services are Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, about 10 miles away on Interstate 5, and MemorialCare’s Laguna Hills location, about 15 miles away on I-5.
Struthers said no decision has been made regarding the sale of the San Clemente campus.
“At this point we have had some inquiries but nothing beyond that,” he said.
Struthers added that hospital officials are looking to relocate their staff within the MemorialCare network.
“We are working with our approximately 150 full-time and part-time employees to help them identify other potential employment opportunities within the (MemorialCare) health care system and our sister facilities,” Struthers said.