End of emergency services era at Palomar Health Downtown Campus

No more downtown emergency services for you.

Ending months of speculation, and anticipation, Palomar Health Wednesday said it would close its around-the-clock downtown Escondido emergency department on March 14.

Once a major 319-bed regional medical center, the 555 E Valley Parkway hospital, now called the Kaiser Permanente Palomar Health Downtown Campus, opened its doors on Feb. 16, 1950.

Handwriting has been on the wall ever since North County’s leading medical provider opened its 740,000-square-foot, 11-story hospital at 2185 Citracado Parkway in 2012.

Palomar Health officials said affiliated urgent-care centers in the area would add operating hours to make up for the emergency room closure.

Palomar Health said last June it would shutter the downtown landmark, but declined to name the date. Officials said the facility cost $20 million annually to keep open although all services could be found at its more modern hospitals at Citracado Parkway and Poway.

Although the initial announcement said the downtown facility would close by the end of 2015, permit delays and delays in state regulatory agency approvals pushed the closing into the new year, officials said.

Still no word when the few remaining downtown departments — labor and delivery, inpatient rehabilitation and behavioral health — would leave, according to officials. The downtown facility has been widely rumored to be transformed into general office space, or even torn down and replaced by another structure, but no confirmation of its next incarnation came forth in light of the closure announcement.

The new Palomar Medical Center on the hill.

The new Palomar Medical Center on the hill.

Dr. Jamie Rivas, Palomar’s director of emergency services said ambulances and medical helicopters were delivering most patients to Palomar Medical Center across town. The downtown facility was being used to less serious cases to the tune of 75 to 90 patients daily compared to 240 to 280 cases daily at the hilltop medical center that looms high above Auto Parkway and Highway 78, the tallest building at Inland North County.

Furthermore, only one out of 100 patients going downtown actually needed hospital admission compared to 30 percent of Palomar Medical Center emergency admissions, according to Rivas.

Additional operating hours would be added to local private facilities, including Graybill Medical, Neighborhood Healthcare, Escondido Family Medicine, Borrego Health along with Palomar’s Expresscare clinics, said Frank Beirne, Palomar’s executive vice president of operations.

As Palomar Health’s founding hospital, Palomar Health Downtown Campus in Escondido first opened its doors in 1950 as Palomar Memorial Hospital with 37 beds. At one time, the 319-bed facility provided comprehensive care to more than 22,000 inpatients from San Diego County, each year.

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