The exterior of Regional Medical Center in East San Jose
Regional Medical Center in East San Jose is owned by HCA Healthcare. The corporation plans to close the trauma center in mid-August. Photo by Brandon Pho.

Vulnerable patients and community health advocates are calling on California’s top cop to stop a private health corporation from cutting one of Santa Clara County’s only trauma centers.

The financially-driven closure of Regional Medical Center’s life-saving services in East San Jose is discriminatory, argues a letter sent Thursday to Attorney General Rob Bonta, since it mostly endangers poor people of color who would either have to wait to be transferred elsewhere or drive half an hour to the next closest trauma unit. Regional, owned by HCA Healthcare, also plans to close its heart attack center and reduce stroke care. The stroke center serves 65% of the county’s uninsured stroke patients, according to county data.

“Inevitably, the proposed closures at Regional Medical Center will result in a decrease in health center access and in an increase in adverse outcomes and deaths — predominantly affecting the working poor and communities of color — a population that already experiences challenges in accessing even the most basic care,” reads a letter to Bonta signed by the leaders of community groups Latinas Contra Cancer and Working Partnerships USA.

Regional Medical Center spokesperson Jack Finn said HCA is shifting its priorities to the hospital’s emergency department as demand grows by an average of 225 patients daily. He said HCA has invested as much as $196 million to increase the emergency department’s capacity from 43 to 63 beds.

“Regional Medical Center is disappointed by the actions of certain officials and activists,” Finn told San José Spotlight. “Our dedicated physicians, nurses and staff remain undaunted in their mission to provide high-quality, compassionate care to our patients.”

A chorus of top county leaders have warned that Regional’s service cuts — set to take effect on Aug. 12 — could plunge the entire county hospital system into chaos. Health and emergency response officials are scrambling to prepare for the resulting deluge of new patients on the county-run Valley Medical Center’s remaining and already-overburdened trauma unit. Regional will also be calling more ambulances to transfer out the patients that can no longer get services there – causing deadly ambulance slowdowns across the entire region, emergency medical officials have warned.

“I am a single mom of two young children,” East San Jose resident Jessica Diangson told San José Spotlight. “I can only imagine if one of them had to be rushed there, but there was nothing there to help them. I don’t even want to think about it.”

From the heart of the East Side, it can take up to 30 or 45 minutes to get to Valley Medical Center or Kaiser Permanente, Diangson said.

“That time could mean someone’s life, and that someone could be the family provider, and what the family is left with are all these hardships that didn’t have to happen,” Diangson told San José Spotlight.

County officials say the California Department of Public Health has the authority to stop HCA’s decision if it determines action is warranted to avoid public harm, though the state has historically refused to intervene on hospital decisions.

Community leaders are now turning to the state attorney general for help.

“I’m proud to stand firm in our request for Attorney General Rob Bonta to launch a full investigation into the recently announced closure of trauma and STEMI services and downgrade comprehensive stroke services at Regional Medical Center,” East San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz told San José Spotlight . “I am confident that with the support of the Attorney General, and our community, we will succeed in stopping this proposed reduction.”

Advocates who organized a Friday news conference argue the North Carolina Attorney General took similar action against HCA Healthcare in 2023 over severe service cuts to a local nonprofit hospital HCA acquired – forcing patients in Western North Carolina to travel further distances for care. Regional Medical Center was also run by a nonprofit before being acquired by HCA in 1998.

“This is what profit in health care does,” Darcie Green, executive director of Latinas Contra Cancer, told San José Spotlight. “This is one more hurdle they’re throwing at patients.”

Green said it isn’t the first time the county hospital system has had to absorb the shockwave of HCA’s service cuts at Regional.

In 2020, Regional’s closure of its labor and delivery unit forced East San Jose residents to travel further to hospitals while in labor.

“We know there will be people who have to wait those extra minutes to get to a different center which could mean loss of life, permanent disability and that all has a human cost, a mental cost, a financial cost,” Green said. “Who picks up all that?”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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