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Advocates Urge State to Intervene in Closure of San Jose Trauma Center

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Dr. Raj Gupta, director of stroke and neuroscience services at Regional Medical Center, speaks during a rally outside of the hospital on May 24. Gupta said the decision to eliminate the hospital's trauma center and other services is shameful. (Joseph Geha/KQED)

Updated 3:10 p.m. Friday

A group of South Bay leaders, healthcare workers and patient advocates is calling on California Attorney General Rob Bonta to intervene in the planned closure of the only trauma center on the east side of Santa Clara County.

The plans by Regional Medical Center of San Jose to shutter its trauma center, eliminate its serious heart attack treatment services and downgrade its stroke services are discriminatory and will harm the health outcomes of some of the most marginalized people in the community, according to the coalition.

In a letter sent to Bonta this week, Darcie Green, head of health nonprofit Latinas Contra Cancer, and Maria Noel Fernandez, the head of labor and equity group Working Partnerships USA, said the cuts will “inevitably” lead to an increase in deaths “predominantly affecting the working poor and communities of color.”

“The proposed downgrade in services will require these patients with the most critical health care needs to be transported further distances, resulting in significant delays in the provision of life-saving care,” the letter reads.


The hospital, owned by for-profit Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA, announced its intentions in a short statement in February, citing a “decline in utilization” over the last several years of its Level II Trauma Center services and its ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) program, which handles severe heart attacks, though it didn’t provide specific numbers.

It did not elaborate on the decision to downgrade its stroke services from the “comprehensive” level, which can care for all types of stroke patients and has 24/7 availability for complex neurosurgery, to “primary.”

The cuts are scheduled to take effect on Aug. 12. They would come roughly four years after Regional Medical Center closed its labor and delivery unit as well.

In the letter to Bonta, Green and Fernandez said HCA has a track record of making decisions prioritizing profits over people, resulting in discriminatory impacts.

“If HCA healthcare is allowed to continue to increase their profits on the backs of our loved ones with the most critical health needs and proceed with these closures, we will all be less healthy and we will all be less safe,” Green said Friday during a rally outside the hospital.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz also gathered at the rally, along with Dr. Raj Gupta, the director of stroke and neuroscience services at Regional Medical Center, to highlight these concerns and ask Bonta to step in.

“If in fact what they’re doing is not against the law, then the next thing we should be thinking about is how to make it against the law to literally put lives on the line or lives at risk,” Chavez said of HCA’s actions. “Frankly, they have been doing it in our community for so long that I have very little trust that HCA will do the right thing.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez speaks during a rally outside of Regional Medical Center in East San José on May 24. Chavez and others called on Attorney General Rob Bonta to halt service cuts planned by the hospital’s ownership. (Joseph Geha/KQED)

Chavez called attention to the disparities in healthcare and hospital service between East San Jose and the west side of the city. HCA is planning a major expansion and remodel of its Good Samaritan Hospital near the Cambrian Park neighborhood, while cutting critical services at Regional Medical Center.

In a statement, HCA spokesperson Jack Finn said Regional Medical Center is “disappointed by the actions” of Chavez and Ortiz.

“The fact is, we are responding to the patient care needs of our community so we can continue to care for our community’s health for the long term,” Finn said. He added that Regional has invested $186 million over a decade in emergency services, and intends to invest $10 million this year to grow its emergency department capacity from 43 beds to 63.

In a brief interview, Finn said the medical staff at the hospital is “not going to be distracted by outside noise” as they go about their work.

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Meanwhile, Dr. Gupta, part of the medical staff at HCA, said it’s “irresponsible and shameful” to cut services at Regional Medical Center, and the decision will add pressure to the rest of the healthcare system.

“Valley Medical Center will feel the heat. Good Samaritan will feel the heat. All other hospitals. “We are opposing it because we do believe in the first rule in medicine, do no harm,” Gupta said at the rally. “And this action will harm our patients, our community.”

Because Regional Medical Center was previously a nonprofit hospital before being purchased by HCA in 2002, local officials say Bonta has the authority to stop discriminatory service cuts. They cited similar actions by North Carolina’s attorney general, who sued HCA last year for “not providing the quality, consistent emergency and cancer care” it committed to offering.

A county report last month said that the Regional Medical Center is the primary destination for one in four stroke patients transported by ambulance in the region, and it serves 65% of stroke patients in the county with no insurance.

Its trauma center sees an average of 2,450 patients annually, about a quarter of all trauma cases in the county. If the closure were to proceed, such patients would have to be transported to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, run by the county, or Stanford Hospital, which would have a “negative cascading effect” on the county healthcare system, officials said in a statement.

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