A new group is fighting the planned closure of a hospital emergency room in San Clemente.
A new group is fighting the planned closure of a hospital emergency room in San Clemente.

Save Saddleback Formed to Fight Closure of San Clemente Medical Center's Emergency Room

A nonprofit has been formed to fight the planned closure of Saddleback Memorial Medical Center San Clemente's hospital bed and emergency room services, and a former district attorney has been retained to consider possible litigation to stop the move, it was announced Thursday.

Save Saddleback San Clemente Hospital is the new organization composed of citizens and physicians taking on MemorialCare Health System, which operates the San Clemente facility as a satellite of its Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills. MemorialCare has revealed plans to close the 73-bed hospital at 654 Camino de los Mares in 2015 and replace it with a $40 million comprehensive outpatient medical center with advanced urgent care. The company says the change is necessary to deliver care more efficiently and at lower per-patient costs.

The location has been San Clemente's hospital for more than 40 years, pulling in not only the beach town's populace of 65,000 (or, counting weekend visitors, 100,000) but Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano residents as well. Save Saddleback organizers say the loss of the emergency room that treats 15,000 visitors and admits more than 4,000 patients annually "will leave a 40-mile void between Oceanside and Mission Viejo." The facility also generates more than 200 jobs, they note.

"Everyone in our community has either been a patient or known family and friends who have been patients at San Clemente Hospital which is why we all agree that having an emergency room nearby is more than a privilege, its a necessity," says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gus Gialamas in a Save Saddleback statement.

Last month, Gialamas was named to a 12-person panel that won the blessing of the San Clemente City Council to explore alternatives to closure of the emergency room. "Our mission is to ensure that every resident has access to a higher standard of ER healthcare," Gialamas says of Save Saddleback. "Our non-profit foundation was formed to spread the word and get our communities involved in stopping this closure."

Theodora Oringher PC, a nationally recognized Costa Mesa litigation firm with a specialty in health care, earlier this week announced it had hired Rod Pacheco, and Save Saddleback disclosed Thursday it has already hired the former Riverside County district attorney to explore the potential for litigation to prevent the closure.

"This is nothing less than an issue of public safety for every citizen within the communities served," Pacheco says in the statement. "Their lives may depend on the hospital remaining open. Litigation has successfully stopped closures before, and we are confident we can achieve the same result here, if need be."

Save Saddleback says its representatives plan to attend upcoming city council meetings to build support. They've also created a website: savesanclementehospital.org.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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