Shuttered OC hospital eyed for affordable senior housing

MemorialCare Health System eyes apartments, medical offices in San Clemente

MemorialCare Health president and CEO Barry Arbuckle and 654 Camino De Los Mares, San Clemente (Google Maps, LinkedIn)
MemorialCare Health president and CEO Barry Arbuckle and 654 Camino De Los Mares, San Clemente (Google Maps, LinkedIn)

The owner of a shuttered hospital in San Clemente has filed plans to replace it with a senior housing complex and health center.

MemorialCare Health System, based in Fountain Valley, has proposed redeveloping the former San Clemente Hospital into 250 apartments and a 7,500 square-foot medical building with urgent care and doctor’s offices, the Orange County Register reported.

A walkable complex for residents 55 and older is now proposed for the 6.3-acre property at 654 Camino De Los Mares, ending a longtime dispute between MemorialCare and the city over whether to revive the 73-bed hospital.

The senior complex project would convert the hospital’s two multi-story buildings, completed in 1971, into apartments at affordable rents, said Dr. Mark Schafer, CEO of MemorialCare Medical Foundation, the charitable arm of the healthcare system.

MemorialCare aims to break ground by the end of the year, or in early 2023.

MemorialCare closed the San Clemente hospital in 2016, saying it was unsustainable because of a lack of patients. Residents of the coastal city in south Orange County must now drive up to 30 minutes for emergency-room care.

Thus began a years-long legal dispute over what to do with the hospital property.

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When MemorialCare sought to convert the hospital into an outpatient center with urgent care, the city changed the zoning to require an emergency room, which according to state law must be tied to an acute care facility–another term for a standard hospital.

After ending up in court, MemorialCare and San Clemente reached a settlement in 2019. The property kept its zoning solely for a state-licensed hospital with emergency services and MemorialCare was given a year to find ways to reopen or sell the facility. If it didn’t succeed, the city could seize the property by eminent domain.

In October, San Clemente changed course. In order to satisfy state housing goals of 1,000 more units, it submitted a plan pegging the hospital site as a housing option.

Tom Leary, senior vice president for MemorialCare, said that prompted the discussion of a mixed-use development, with housing and medical care. City officials said they look forward to reviewing its plans.

“While health care is a priority in the city,” Mayor Gene James said, “housing is also a priority due to state mandates.”

With eight in 10 residents wanting a hospital in San Clemente, according to a recent survey, the city is now looking at how to build a hospital on one of two city-owned properties. The cost could be more than $200 million.

[Orange County Register] – Dana Bartholomew

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