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Doctors, Community Leaders Ramp Up Efforts to Halt Closure of East San José Trauma Center

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Advocates pushing to stop the closure of Regional Medical Center's trauma center carry a box made to look like a casket just outside the hospital in East San José on June 13. (Joseph Geha/KQED)

As the planned closure of the only trauma center on the east side of Santa Clara County draws nearer, a coalition of health care workers, advocates and community leaders are ramping up their efforts to halt it.

Backed by thousands of people who have signed an online petition, the group is urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to step in and prevent what they call the life-threatening closure of the trauma center and other service cuts at Regional Medical Center, a hospital in East San José.

“We don’t have a choice but to fight,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said Thursday at a rally just steps from the entrance to Regional Medical Center. “Because if the state understood the impacts to this community, they already would have weighed in to say no to HCA removing these critical services.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez speaks at a rally outside Regional Medical Center in East San José on Thursday. Chavez and a coalition of advocates are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to halt the closure of the hospital’s trauma center. (Joseph Geha/KQED)

The hospital’s ownership group, Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA Healthcare, is planning on Aug. 12 to shutter the Level II trauma center at Regional and eliminate its ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) program, which handles severe heart attacks.

The company also plans 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.”

Dozens of staff members, including surgeons, doctors and other medical personnel at the hospital, recently started receiving termination notices tied to the planned cuts.


If the closure were to proceed, patients who needed such services would need 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 health care system, the county said previously.

The calls on Thursday to halt the cuts follow earlier requests by the group and county officials asking Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California Department of Public Health to investigate the planned cuts and to intervene.

The attorney general’s office on Thursday said it is reviewing the matter but is unable to comment on a potential or ongoing investigation “to protect its integrity.”

A spokesperson for the Governor’s office deferred comment to the California Health and Human Services Agency, who did not immediately respond.

Chavez, as well as other elected leaders, doctors, nurses and patient advocates, are raising alarms over the cuts, which they say will lead to more deaths and worse health outcomes for people all over the region who rely on the critical services.

Regional Medical Center in East San José is planning to close its trauma center and cut back other critical services on Aug. 12. (Joseph Geha/KQED)

The changes happening are discriminatory, the group said, as they will hit hardest in the area around the hospital, an area of the county with larger proportions of families with low income and of people of color who are more likely to have a harder time accessing health care in general.

Meanwhile, on the west side of San José, HCA is planning a major expansion and remodel of its Good Samaritan Hospital near the Cambrian Park neighborhood, where there are more hospitals to address health care needs in the area.

“HCA has yet again decided to place profits over patients,” Melissa Gong, a registered nurse at Regional Medical Center, said.

She said many East San José residents have no insurance or are underinsured, have lower health literacy, and often face language barriers.

“As a result, many of these patients have chronic health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and resulting comorbidities. All comorbidities that require the use of stroke, STEMI, and trauma services,” she said.

In a written statement issued Thursday, Carmella Gutierrez, a spokesperson for HCA’s Far West Division, said the campaign against the hospital is choosing “exaggeration to generate a false fear” in the community.

Jessica Diangson, a member of Defensoras, a patient organizing committee with health nonprofit Latinas Contra Cancer, speaks at a rally outside Regional Medical Center in East San José on June 13. (Joseph Geha/KQED)

“Supervisor Cindy Chavez knows better. Yet, she has chosen to divide the community with grand-standing photo ops rather than engage in a conversation about sustainable healthcare and the facts,” the statement said.

HCA said in a letter to the county’s emergency services department that it has seen a 38% reduction in patients at Regional Medical Center’s trauma center.

And while a county report said the trauma center handles an average of 2,450 trauma patients annually, about a quarter of all reported trauma cases for the trauma system in the county, HCA disagreed.

“The reported volumes in the County’s impact statement are overstated and do not align with the reality at RMC,” the letter from HCA said. “We average four trauma patients per day.”

Advocates pushing to stop the closure of Regional Medical Center’s trauma center carry a box made to look like a casket just outside the hospital in East San José on June 13. (Joseph Geha/KQED)

The company also said that the county’s requirements for operating the trauma center are costly because they go beyond what the American College of Surgeons recommends, including having a neurological surgery backup physician, more training and education for physicians and nurses, and higher fees.

The hospital also said it expects to lose more trauma patients as Washington Hospital in Fremont, in Alameda County, comes online as a trauma center.

Gong, the nurse, said HCA calling the campaign to stop the cuts exaggerated is deflecting from the heart of the matter.

“They’re gaslighting everybody,” Gong said. “We’re going to cut all the services that treat this side of town and underserved populations. And then when people fight back, we’re going to say, ‘Oh, but you’re upset that we’re taking away your services, well it’s how you’re receiving it, not what we’re doing.’”

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During the rally on Thursday, members of the coalition enacted a “funeral procession,” carrying black boxes made to look like caskets for 15 minutes near the hospital. The procession symbolizes the extra time it might take a patient to reach another trauma center in an emergency if the Regional Medical Center’s trauma center closes.

Dr. Raj Gupta, the head of neurology and stroke services at the hospital, who has spoken out against the cuts, said he doesn’t like the greediness of HCA Healthcare, which made $5.2 billion in profit last year.

He and his colleagues are participating in the rallies to try to stop them or, at minimum, raise awareness of the cuts that could be coming.

“I can close my eyes and let it happen, right?” he said. “But the public will not know until Aug. 12, when a crisis occurs.”


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