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DPlogoBy Eric Heinz

Trying the legislative route to create a free-standing or satellite emergency room in San Clemente was unsuccessful for local advocates.

Hoping to get a bill past the first legs of the legislative hurdle, Assemblyman Bill Brough, San Clemente Mayor Bob Baker and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center administrator Tony Struthers spoke in favor to the Assembly’s Health Committee hearing Tuesday of a bill that would allow for a free-standing emergency room in San Clemente. Committee members voted down the bill 6-10.

In August 2014, MemorialCare announced its intention to transform its Saddleback Memorial Medical Center San Clemente campus—Dana Point’s nearest hospital and ER—to an advanced urgent care facility. By current law, ERs are not allowed to exist apart from full-service hospitals, so the change would leave the tri-city area without.

On Wednesday, Senate Bill 787, Sen. Patricia Bates’ similar bill, was heard by that branch’s Health Committee. Similar arguments were repeated in the debate, and the committee did not reach a majority to pass the bill to the Senate floor—two aye votes, no nay votes, but seven abstained votes put an end to it.

Bates and Brough released a statement on Wednesday following the Senate Health Committee hearing.

“This says a lot more about a flawed process than anything else, and in no way reflects upon the City of San Clemente, Saddleback Memorial, or our residents, who made a compelling case for the need to take action now,” the statement said. “Fundamentally, we are deeply troubled by Sacramento’s failure to recognize the scope of the problem and support these enduring community health care needs. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the rapidly changing health care industry, California must develop a comprehensive plan of response.”

Opposing the bill were the California Nurses Association, Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and the California Labor Federation.

The main concerns about the bill, specific to local needs, were that a free-standing emergency room would not offer adequate cardiac or stroke emergency services or on-site surgery and that there was not wording in the bill to protect patients from paying emergency room fees as opposed to urgent care fees. The opponents were also not satisfied with Saddleback’s response to questions regarding a sufficient blood bank on site.

It’s possible that a pilot program could come to the area to explore the possibility of a free-standing ER specific to area needs, but unless the law is tailored to allow it, Saddleback Memorial San Clemente may end up moving ahead with their original plan to convert the facility to an advanced urgent care, without an ER.

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