Governor’s Help Sought to Stop Closure or Force Sale of San Clemente Hospital

A physician who is among community members trying to save San Clemente’s hospital has thrown a Hail Mary pass to the governor.

Dr. Steve Cullen plays up the threat to 135,000 residents and tens of thousands of tourists should Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, San Clemente close on May 31.

That’s already a foregone conclusion to owner MemorialCare Health System, which announced the facility’s closure on March 2 due to declining patient numbers and legislative constraints.

The grass-roots Save Saddleback San Clemente Hospital argues MemorialCare is a $3 billion company that has made $31 million and $41 million respectively the past two years at the hospital and has received five offers to sell it.

Some believe MemorialCare is punishing the community for opposing an earlier plan to close the emergency room and turn the hospital into a long term care facility.

Cullen’s letter follows:¬†

Governor Jerry Brown:

I am a physician in San Clemente, CA. Our local hospital, Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, San Clemente is due to close May 31st. MemorialCare is the owner/operator and they have announced closure despite 22 months of community opposition. The hospital serves 135,000 people but since we are beach towns, over 200,000 in the summer.

We are a geographically isolated community (ocean west, National Forest east, Camp Pendleton south) with only 1 road out. That avenue, I-5, is severely congested and construction has started which will continue for another 2 1/2 years. The next closest ER will be a 30 minute drive, and there is no relief lanes for emergency vehicles. Our next closest hospital already leads 30 Orange County hospitals in wait time, diversion time and wall time.

Rene Hsia, MD, from UCSF, has released two studies in 2014 and 2016 showing that when emergency rooms close, mortality in that community goes up 5-15 percent. MemorialCare posted profits for this hospital of $31 million and $41 million for the last two years respectively; is a $3 billion company that makes $300 million annually; is a 501C-3 nonprofit and; has received no less than five offers to purchase the facility. MemorialCare, a community benefit organization, runs at a profit margin three times the state average all while paying their top 50 employees an average salary of $670,000.

We face a crisis. Orange County EMS just released a report last week asking the California Department of Public Health to consider the growing population (14,400 new homes being built now), the geographically isolation, the diversion rates of our closest hospitals and the concern for increased mortality pointed out by two excellent UCSF studies; before they accept MemorialCare’s decision to close. Dr. Karen Smith, the CA director for CDPH, now says they have no authority to deny the closure. The Attorney General has met with us but says Memorial is breaking no laws.

The 135,000 people include 21 percent elderly, 19 percent Hispanic, 21 percent that speak a primary language other that English, 3,500 homeless children registered in Capistrano Unified School District and over 9,000 veterans. These people represent those with no means nor obvious access to health care other than this, the only public hospital in the region. These people have only our elected officials to speak on their behalf.

We are in desperate need of your leadership. Please step in and ask this community benefit organization which has already received over a billion dollars in tax relief from this state, that if they choose not to operate a profitable facility in the best interests of the community it claims to serve, that they should sell to one of the many suitors interested in doing just that.

Dr. Steven Cullen
Save Saddleback San Clemente Hospital

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