Low inpatient numbers causes hospital closure

Come May 31, San Clemente hospital closes it's doors for good, due to low inpatient numbers over recent years. (Angel Grady/Lariat)

Come May 31, San Clemente hospital closes it’s doors for good, due to low inpatient numbers over recent years. (Angel Grady/Lariat)

It is just after midnight on a Saturday evening, your 5-year-old son has a fever of 105 degrees and has been vomiting for 20 minutes now. Fortunately, there is a hospital within a few miles of home for him to get the immediate care he needs. For the residents of San Clemente, come the end of May, that option will not be available to them.

On March 2, the owners of Saddleback Memorial Care announced they will be closing the San Clemente campus. The hospital site is equipped with an emergency room and 73 licensed beds. On average, only 19 of those were occupied last year.

The number of patients had been declining to a level that made operating difficult. This is the main reason for the closure. The decision to close the San Clemente campus has been in question since August of 2014.

“This is not a decision we reached quickly,” said hospital administrator Tony Struthers. “It is the result of many discussions and deliberations. This was not the outcome we had sought or expected.”

According to memorialcare.org, Saddleback Memorial has held hundreds of meetings with employees, physicians, local residents, businesses, community organizations and elected officials to share its vision for converting the San Clemente campus into a state-of-the-art ambulatory health care center.

The plan was to convert the hospital into an outpatient health center, one that would offer the same services a hospital would provide, minus the beds and emergency room. Despite the many petitions and support, the bill did not receive enough votes in January for the desired vision for the campus.

“We had hoped the campus could be used to expand health care services in the community,” Struthers said. “We envisioned a new modern ambulatory center that would better meet the community’s future health care needs and transform the campus into a health care destination.”

Some of the people of San Clemente fought to keep it open

, but that was not the case with everyone. Some felt that it was time for the hospital to shut down.

“I don’t think it will effect much at all,” said San Clemente resident Katie Hathorn, 26. “It was a terrible hospital that never really helped people anyway. We all joked that all they did was give you morphine and send you on your way until you go to the actual doctor.”

Memorial Care officials stated there had been days when the number of inpatients were in the low teens, and some days when the number of patients was in the single digits. With these low numbers nursing programs, like the one at Saddleback College, were unable to use the San Clemente campus for clinical rotations.

“The Saddleback Nursing program hasn’t used San Clemente hospital for several years,” said Saddleback College director of nursing Diane Pestolesi. “Due to the low patient census and the inability to accommodate our normal clinical group of 10 students. The closure will not directly affect any student in the nursing program.”

San Clemente residents will now have to travel about 9 miles to the Laguna Beach or Mission Viejo campuses. However, the main campus in Laguna Hills is 14 miles away.

Though the hospital will close on May 31, 2016, Memorial Care is committed to continue serving the community with 45 physicians and 17 locations throughout San Clemente and surrounding communities.