San Clemente Hospital ER backers form human ‘SOS’ on beach

Several hundred people fearful of Orange County losing its southernmost emergency room lined up Saturday beside the San Clemente Pier to form a human SOS in the sand.

A group headed by Dr. Gus Gialamas, local surgeon and a founder of savesanclementehospital.org, is trying to talk MemorialCare Health System out of closing its Saddleback Memorial Medical Center San Clemente hospital to replace with a comprehensive outpatient medical center with advanced urgent care. MemorialCare owns the 73-bed hospital at 654 Camino de los Mares, San Clemente.

MemorialCare says the small hospital is seeing fewer patients as national healthcare trends move to outpatient care that is more convenient and less costly than a hospital. A decision from the MemorialCare board could come in March, pending completion of a feasibility study.

The San Clemente City Council opposes closure and has asked MemorialCare, at minimum, to not close the hospital and ER without securing an emergency-services solution. Under California law, paramedics cannot take critical patients to an urgent-care center – even an advanced one – only to a state-accredited ER attached to a hospital.

Closure of the Saddleback San Clemente ER would leave a 40-mile gap between Mission Hospital’s ER in Mission Viejo and Tri-City Hospital’s ER in Oceanside as South County population and traffic continue to mount, critics said at a City Council meeting.

Dr. Myron Wacholder, a specialist in emergency medicine on MemorialCare’s board, said at a San Clemente Hospital Advisory Committee meeting this week that most emergency patients from San Clemente are being transported to trauma, cardiac, stroke or other specialty emergency centers, bypassing San Clemente’s ER.

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