Competing emergency services providers swept into downtown Escondido Wednesday to fill the void left by the closure of Palomar Health’s emergency department.
Expected since last June, announced last month, Escondido’s only downtown emergency room closed its swinging doors after a 65-year run.
A few departments — labor and delivery, inpatient rehabilitation and behavioral health — remain at the 555 E Valley Parkway hospital that once was a major 319-bed regional medical center, but they will be shut at an as-yet undisclosed time.
Some observers expressed the belief that closures would take place to make way for an office building conversion. However, Chris Saunders, Palomar Health public relations manager March 16 said, “There are no decisions or agreements on the future of the property at this time.”
The handwriting was on the hospital wall for years. Palomar Health opened a state-of-the-art, 740,000-square-foot, 11-story hospital at 2185 Citracado Parkway in Southwest Escondido in 2012.
Officials said what they renamed Kaiser Permanente Palomar Health Downtown Campus cost $20 million a year to maintain while providing services redundant to the new facility.
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 in 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.
Downtown Escondido Emergency Services patient rush
The rush was on to fill the void left by Palomar’s emergency room closure.
Borrego Community Health Foundation began offering urgent care services at iCentro Medico Escondido, its downtown Escondido site, even as Palomar Health was wheeling out its last medical instruments.
Officials from the non-profit health care provider said they had been eyeing the downtown Escondido prize for a while, and with the closure of Palomar Health’s operation, “it makes sense,” according to Gary Rotto, Borrego Health senior vice president of government and community affairs.
Centro Medico Escondido, 1121 E Washington Ave., will add nine positions and a physicians to a 37-member staff along with 32 additional hours per week. Pre-expansion, it was closed on weekends and generally open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. It now will be opened to 8 p.m. on weekdays and during the weekend, Rotto said.
Coinciding with Palomar estimates, Borrego officials said up to 70 percent of Palomar’s emergency patients could be accommodated at the expanded Centro Medico Escondido.
Additional operating hours would be added to local private facilities, including Graybill Medical, Neighborhood Healthcare, Escondido Family Medicine, along with Palomar’s Expresscare clinics, said Frank Beirne, Palomar’s executive vice president of operations.