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Proposed service reductions at privately-owned Santa Clara County hospital sparks fear, outrage

Tuesday's Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting
Santa Clara County
Tuesday's Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting

The Regional Medical Center — or RMC — is East San José’s main emergency hospital. It sees almost 2,500 trauma patients a year, representing a quarter of all trauma cases in Santa Clara County.

But in February, RMC announced that it would be closing its trauma unit, and reducing services in other departments – a move healthcare officials and Santa Clara County residents are deeply disturbed by. Here’s Paul Lorenz, CEO for Santa Clara Valley Healthcare, speaking at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

“Make no mistake about it. This is about margins and profits and not about responsible healthcare. As one of the largest and most financially profitable healthcare systems in the US, they have the ability to prioritize and fund essential services needed to care for our community and to save lives.”

RMC is owned and operated by Hospital Corporation of America — or HCA. Valued at almost $80 billion, HCA is the largest for-profit hospital corporation in the country.

Their proposed cuts to RMC are part of a pattern. In San Jose they’ve been slashing services for Medicare and Medi-Cal patients. In 2020, they cut maternity services at the regional hospital, and in 2023, they closed down inpatient psychiatric care at RMC’s sister hospital, Good Samaritan.

Here’s Brian McBeth, an emergency physician in Santa Clara County, discussing the impact of these closures.

“More need for ambulances, longer wait times, congestion over there, as Paul was saying, and our shared community and its most vulnerable members will be disproportionately affected, our communities of color and those with less socioeconomic means, they will feel the impact immediately.”

The meeting went on and on like this, with physicians, healthcare officials, and Santa Clara County residents describing the devastating impact reduced hospital services would have on the community and the county’s already strained health system.

The California Department of Health — or DPH — has the power to prevent the closure. It’s rare they exercise that authority, but Supervisor Joe Simitian stressed that, as a regulatory body, they have a legal obligation to intervene.

“This is a regulatory body that exists in part to render judgment about when a public harm is about to occur that is inconsistent with the regulatory framework. [...] Forgive me all if that seems a little wonky, but if we are not gonna win them over based on the moral imperative of the moment, I'd like to make sure that the record reflects that there's a regulatory framework, that there is a discretion to be exercised, and that we should reasonably expect people with that authority and responsibility to exercise it.”

The Board voted unanimously to send the impact report to DPH. Whether they will intervene remains to be seen.

Wren Farrell (he/him) is a writer, producer and journalist living in San Francisco.