St. John's Regional Medical Center will have to continue offering emergency care at its F Street facility after opening a facility on the city's east side, the Oxnard City Council has decided.
In voting to approve the annexation of the 70-acre parcel on which the new hospital will sit, the council concluded that emergency care will still be needed at the present building, on the 300 block of F Street and west of Oxnard's main rail line, to avoid delays in waiting for trains to pass.
However, the hospital will not be required to keep in operation a full emergency room with facilities for surgery, as Oxnard's Planning Commission had previously recommended. Instead, St. John's will be required to keep only a blood supply, X-ray equipment and a doctor on duty at all times, council members decided Tuesday.
Termed Possibly Illegal
Officials at St. John's said they have always intended to offer emergency services of some sort at the F Street facility after moving to a new 48-acre site at Gonzales Road and Rose Avenue. But, they had objected to the requirement for a full emergency room as too costly and possibly illegal under a state law that requires emergency rooms to have the backup of a full hospital on the premises.
They also complained that city officials had failed to demonstrate that there would be a need for the second hospital emergency room. An attorney for the hospital, Stanley Cohen, had implied that St. John's would sue the city if it forced them to maintain such a facility.
But the compromise, which was struck between the city's and hospital's staff during a 15-minute council recess, appeared agreeable to both sides.
"We're going to have a new hospital," Councilwoman Dorothy Maron said. "We're delighted."
Hospital spokeswoman Judy Cole responded Wednesday morning: "We can live with this."
The decision was not received as warmly by Oxnard Planning Commissioner Selma Dressler, who recommended the plan to have a full emergency room when the commission considered the annexation last month.
"I'm disappointed . . . and extremely concerned," she said. "The bulk of the population is on the west side of the tracks, and when people go to an emergency room, they need care fast, and every minute counts."
But Tony Grey, a colleague on the commission who had also supported full emergency services, said he is not concerned by the move.
"As long as there's blood and X-ray, I'll accept that," he said.
A point of contention is a Southern Pacific rail line that runs along Oxnard Boulevard, separating the eastern quarter of the city from its west side, where city officials estimate that 85% and 90% of Oxnard's residents live.
Only one bridge--at 3rd Street in mid-town--crosses the railroad tracks, and motorists crossing Oxnard Boulevard on such streets as Gonzales often wait while trains pass through town. Meanwhile, the city does not plan to build a bridge over the crossing for 20 to 30 years, said Robert Weithofer, traffic and transportation manager.
The rail line is used daily by four Amtrak passenger trains and two Southern Pacific freight trains, said City Planner Matthew G. Winegar.
He said trains usually delay motorists for less than a minute, but trains directed to the Oxnard tracks when Southern Pacific is repairing rail lines elsewhere can cause delays of up to five minutes. The frequency of delays may increase within the next 18 months to two years if Amtrak adds four additional passenger trains, a step under consideration, he said.
But the hospital has not experienced problems providing emergency service to residents of Oxnard's east side, who would face the same potential delays in approaching St. John's present facility, said Nick Dalba, St. John's vice president of facilities planning and development.
Impact on Ambulances
Meanwhile, only 15% of the people expected to need emergency service would have to cross the railroad tracks at Gonzales, said Ken Cook, the president of Oxnard Ambulance Service. Ambulances from the rest of the city would use either the 3rd Street bridge or circumvent the tracks altogether, he said.
Officials at St. John's began planning the new hospital three years ago after facing costly renovations of the present facility, portions of which date to 1951, Cole said.
Plans for the new hospital, a $50-million project on which construction is expected to begin in two years, reflect a growing trend toward treating more patients outside a hospital setting, she said. The new hospital will have expanded outpatient services and 54 fewer beds than the present 260-bed facility, she said.
The hospital will occupy 48 acres of a business park that includes a 5,000-square-foot medical mall with stores selling pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies, and a medical office building with 60 to 65 offices.
Oxnard's annexation of the parcel must also be approved by the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, which will consider the issue next month.