SAN JOSE -- Eight years after downtown San Jose residents endured the closure of the San Jose Medical Center -- and with it access to nearby quality medical care -- a new primary care health center celebrated its grand opening Thursday to serve a population that has been clamoring ever since for much-needed services.
The addition of the Gardner Downtown Health Center inside the Mediplex Building at 725 E. Santa Clara St. is the first step in Santa Clara County's quest to provide downtown health care services until a permanent $50 million, three-story medical clinic next door is completed by 2015.
"This is the beginning of health care services developing in the heart of our downtown San Jose ... services that San Jose needs and deserves,'' Roz Dean, a longtime leader of the Coalition for a Downtown Hospital, told the crowd of about 125 people gathered in the blazing sun outside the center Thursday afternoon.
"We thank all of the community support, the elected and appointed officials and community leaders that stood by us, mentored and guided us,'' Dean added. "With this continued support, we can continue to grow and reach our goals.''
The new Gardner Health Center, located on the ground floor of the county-owned Mediplex Building, actually opened for business in late June. It is the company's sixth medical center in the South Bay, including four others in San Jose and one in Gilroy, said Reymundo Espinoza, CEO of the Gardner Family
Like many of the others, this health care center is meant to provide the kinds of medical services that don't rise to the level of acute hospital care.
"Our goal is to keep people healthy and out of emergency rooms, because emergency rooms are the most costly,'' said Espinoza before the event, which featured a blessing of the building by a group of Aztec-inspired dancers wearing costumes and feather headdresses.
Six new exam rooms inside the facility cost the county $386,000; the operation will be staffed by one physician from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. But Espinoza said that as the patient numbers increase, he expects to hire another physician.
Meanwhile, two other floors in the same building are dedicated to county mental health services and WIC, a federally funded health and nutrition program for women, infants and children.
Alexis Chapa, 25, who is studying to be a cosmetologist and is in the process of moving to downtown San Jose, is among the 200 patients that already have sought medical services at the new center.
"It's the first doctor I've gone to in five years,'' said Chapa. "She's been helping me, and I feel very comfortable with her.''
Patti Phillips, 75, a longtime downtown San Jose resident, said she's pleased to have the new center and the promise of a future clinic.
"We definitely needed some kind of medical care here; it's too scary without it otherwise,'' she said.
When the new 60,000-square-foot medical clinic opens in three years, Gardner will offer 20 exam rooms in that state-of-the-art facility. The clinic will be built on the southeast corner of the old San Jose Medical Center site and will include not only the Gardner Health Center, but a county urgent care facility. A pharmacy, phlebotomy and radiology services, as well as other medical services, also will be offered.
The clinic is being funded by an $840 million county bond measure passed by voters in 2008.
County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., whose district includes downtown San Jose, and was among those who helped make Thursday's event a reality, credited both the center and clinic to the hard work of the community, led by Dean and others, who refused to give up their demand for medical services.
"It's vital to ensure that these services are provided in our community,'' Shirakawa Jr. reminded the crowd.
In 2004, the Hospital Corp. of America shut down the San Jose Medical Center because of rising costs and a state mandate to seismically retrofit or rebuild the hospital, which would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
After years of battling with the city of San Jose over zoning changes to develop or sell the property, as well as the city's demands that HCA contribute money for a new downtown medical facility, the corporation agreed to sell the hospital and entire 13.39 acre site to the county for $28.3 million.
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-275-0140.