Kaiser Permanente’s San Marcos hospital opens this week
North County’s newest hospital will open this week. Kaiser Permanente’s San Marcos Medical Center will start welcoming patients on Wednesday.
“We are planning to be busy and we just don't know how fast we’ll get busy,” said Dr. Michael Lalich, Kaiser San Diego’s area medical director and chief of staff.
Lalich said the hospital has room for 206 beds, but will start with 168 and grow as needed. Kaiser officials said about one-third of their San Diego County members live in North County.
“We really are trying to meet the needs of our patients where they live or where they work and that’s why we added this facility,” Lalich said.
Lalich said this hospital will do nearly everything Kaiser's other two medical centers in the region do. Neurosurgery, plastic surgery and some specialty children's visits will still be done at other locations.
The hospital comes with a new labor and delivery department, plus a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Palomar Health’s Poway Medical Center recently closed its labor and delivery unit and moved services to Escondido. Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside will be suspending those services in October due to a lack of births, but Kaiser is confident it will have plenty of expecting families.
“Before opening this hospital we have partnered with Palomar and had our deliveries with Palomar — where we had 80-100 or so deliveries a month,” Lalich said. “We’ll be bringing all that work in here.”
Kaiser has partnered with Palomar Health and Tri-City for other medical services; officials said that will still continue, but not as much as before. The idea is Kaiser members who live in North County will come to the San Marcos hospital now.
Palomar Health officials said they are consolidating some programs, but they have been working to stay ahead of this hospital’s opening.
“While there will be a slight reduction in some of the service lines, we don’t expect any drastic reduction in volume,” said spokesperson Bianca Kasawdish on behalf of Palomar Health. “We have been planning for this for five years and have been recruiting a world-class team.”
Earlier this year, Palomar Health offered a large retention bonus for nurses to stay with the medical system.
Another area that is expected to be busy at the San Marcos hospital is the emergency room. It is not a trauma center, though — Palomar Health’s Escondido Medical Center will still be the only trauma center for the North County area. The San Marcos medical center is about two-thirds the size of Kaiser’s San Diego Medical Center in Kearny Mesa but has the same size emergency room.
“We have had a lot of challenges with emergency room waits and our two other ED's — throughout COVID and even beyond as people are starting to come back and get health care that they’ve put on the shelf for a few years,” Lalich said. “So we’ve been exceptionally busy and that was part of why we needed this third hospital, to really have an extra emergency room to spread out our care.”
Kaiser’s first and oldest hospital in San Diego County is the Zion Medical Center. The North County hospital also has some firsts for Kaiser, like a specialized safe room meant for patients experiencing a mental health crisis. It has a retractable door to keep equipment out of reach. Video conferencing equipment is also in many patient rooms.
Construction of the 430,000 square foot hospital began in December 2020 and finished a few weeks ahead of schedule. Staffing shortages across the county in health care made it difficult to hire some positions.
“We are fully staffed and yes it was a challenge,” said Max Villalobos, Kaiser’s chief operating officer in North County. “We spent the last six months working on recruiting and hiring and we were able to hire 1,000 new positions, but it was not easy.”
Villalobos said staffing in the imaging department and surgical techs were the hardest positions to fill. Kaiser officials said as North County grows, there is more room to expand services.