Bastone: Minutes Matter

When the San Clemente City Council forced the closure of Saddleback Memorial Medical Center’s San Clemente hospital this past year, South Orange County residents lost the only public emergency room along the I-5 corridor between Oceanside and Mission Viejo. Anyone in the San Clemente area seeking emergency or critical care is now forced to struggle through traffic congestion on I-5 all the way to Mission Viejo’s Mission Hospital, which is more than 12.5 miles away with travel times that can take more than a half-hour at certain times.

In emergency situations, there is a saying in the medical community: “minutes matter.” In my experience, truer words have never been spoken. Minutes can mean the difference between life and death for a patient experiencing a life-threatening emergency such as a heart attack, stroke, allergic reaction, or a severe injury from a traffic collision, just to name a few.

The I-5 corridor between Mission Viejo and Oceanside is one of the most heavily traveled areas in South Orange County, and one of the most congested. Unlike similarly busy stretches in other areas of the region, there are currently no alternative routes to avoid this congestion. Instead, residents and the ambulance companies that provide services to these communities, are subject to the current conditions of I-5. This means more than 100,000 residents, including seniors and parents of young children, have no choice but to brave a trip up I-5 if a medical emergency arises.

When the San Clemente hospital was closed, residents were told to use a nearby hospital in case of an emergency. But with the closest trauma center over 12 miles away, what happens when there is an accident or simply heavy traffic on the freeway? Without an alternative route, critical minutes are spent in traffic, rather than in a hospital receiving care. It is vitally important our first responders have an alternative route that can both alleviate traffic congestion on the freeway and allow emergency vehicles to transport patients quickly and efficiently. Having the 241 Toll Road finally connect to I-5 is the best option to relieve traffic and, more importantly, provide an emergency route for first responders, including police, fire, and ambulances.

However, as a resident of South Orange County, I have heard misinformation and scare tactics that imply connecting the 241 Toll Road to I-5 would negatively affect the overall health of community members. As a healthcare professional, I can tell you this statement is patently false. The reality of the situation is that not only have numerous studies shown that a decrease in traffic congestion leads to a decrease in dangerous pollutant emissions, but an alternate route could literally save lives as timely access to emergency care would be improved. Cities like Aliso Viejo, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, Newport Beach, Irvine, and nearly a dozen more have toll roads that enter their city boundaries, yet it is ridiculous to allege the residents in these communities suffer negative health effects or are negatively affected by these roadways. To the contrary, this highway system reduces traffic congestion not only on I-5 and I-405, but also on our local city streets in Orange County.

Recently, a small plane crash on I-405 and a raging fire in San Clemente reminded us that emergency situations compound traffic, thereby increasing the risks to public safety. In these cases, the absence of the 73 Toll Road could have made a bad situation manifestly worse. Again, in a medical emergency when lives are at stake, minutes matter.

For most of us, traffic congestion is a nuisance making us late for work, appointments, or family gatherings. But for someone in need of emergency medical care, traffic can be the difference between life and death. Regardless of where you live, that is something we should all be concerned about.

Peter Bastone is a South Orange County resident and Past President and Chief Executive Officer of Mission Hospital and Regional Trauma Center.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Bauer: San Clemente & South County Don’t Need More Toll Roads or TCA

O’Keefe: TCA Needs to Trust the Process



  • Laura Smith

    Hello Pete. Get your facts straight before you publish an article! San Clemente city council did Not force the closer of the hospital. Actually it was the opposite! But still Memorial care left! Someone else had a good idea you being a doctor would you like to open a hospital here we do need a hospital! Second point we Do have a second way to get to Mission hospital. Haven’t you heard of La Pata? You take it right to Crown Valley Pkwy,ta da! You don’t even have to get on the freeway! So before you advocate a toll road being put right through our neighborhoods,think how would you like one in your backyard. Yes it would be bad for our schools especially if the traffic were to back up waiting to merge on to the 5 freeway right over our high school. Do you want exhaust from cars over your backyard? Pete hopefully you are not a spokesperson for the TCA and can come to see them for how they really are.

  • David Zenger

    Gosh darn I’m sorry I wasted my time reading this.

    Here’s a thought, Pete: have your friends build a new trauma center in San Clemente and save everybody a lot of grief.

  • KKaiser

    I’m so disappointed with Mr. Bastone’s editorial. Our children went to J Serra together and played on the same soccer team. I would think he would have more empathy for others. I was a guest at Mr. Bastone’s former home on Lake Mission Viejo. I wonder how he would have felt if the TCA had suddenly decided to pave over Lake Mission Viejo to create a toll road to alleviate traffic on the 5 Fwy? This is exactly what the TCA has decided to do in my neighborhood – pave over the hills that my home looks out on to with a toll road. I did not buy my home in San Clemente 19 years ago to look at a toll road out my front door. I find it difficult to understand how Mr. Bastone could recommend a toll road into an established neighborhood when I know he would fight to keep it out of his own gated community. I would never think to force a toll road into a community who did not want it or need it. And to be clear, Saddleback Memorial closed the hospital. The San Clemente City Council fought to keep it.

  • Cindy Miller

    OMG!! Are you kidding. It’s like no arterial roads exist???? So going east on a toll road that would may connect inland to Crown Valley is the answer. NOT A CHANCE would anyone knowingly end up approximately 6 miles east then sit through a dozen lights or intersections *ambulance to make a direct 12 mile option to a what 15 to 20 mile option!!! Why do they print this. Again referencing the worst traffic is between Mission Viejo and Oceanside is she on drugs!!!! It starts in MV. And goes north in am and from irvine to MV in the evening. What makes me crazy is there is No mobility problem. No traffic only summer on weekend.

  • Todd Newton

    San Clemente didn’t force the closure of San Clemente hospital – it fought to keep it open. Memorial Care wanted to close the ER and inpatient services in favor of an urgent care and outpatient services. As a board-certified Emergency Physician and a senior leader in Emergency Services for a large health system I can unequivocally state that an urgent care, no matter how useful, is not a replacement for an emergency room. That’s what the city fought against; and to state otherwise is to propagate misinformation that makes the rest of the author’s premise highly suspect.

    Additionally, dumping east to west inland traffic to an existing choke point on the 5 in San Clemente will hardly lessen traffic for that community- it will increase it! Please take note of how “relieved” traffic is on the 405 N at the 133 terminus; it’s stacked up for miles in the AM. Also take note of the 405 N at the 73 terminus; again stacked up every rush hour. Study after study has debunked the myth that building roads decreases traffic. Roads equal development equals more traffic.

    Finally, while it is true that shorter transit times to an ER during an emergency are advantageous- this won’t be helped by extending the 241 Toll Road to San Clemente for the reasons stated above. And, La Pata has already been extended. Bifurcating an already established town and running an 8 lane toll road by schools and neighborhoods, with it’s well known health risks, is irresponsible at best. Doing the same under the banner of improving the health of the impacted communities is laughable.

  • Eva O’Ke

    I guess you forgot of the $127 Million road called La Pata that has given access to 12,000 households in San Clemente that never have to get on the 5 and can get to Mission Viejo quickly. You also don’t know that we have added an additional ambulance and have helicopter capabilities
    With regards to your preposterous claims about pollution, the coastal commission disagrees with you:In 2007 the Coastal Commission said, “this project is inconsistent with the energy and vehicle traveled policy (Section 30253(4)). The greenhouse gas emission directly resulting from the amount of cement required and the construction-related emissions over a four-year period would contribute significantly to global warming.” TCA maintains operation impacts from emissions would be neutral or beneficial, because the toll road is intended to relieve congestion on I5, and thus pollution from the higher-speed and thus shorter vehicle trips would be reduced. Ultimately, it is more likely that the proposed toll road would encourage continued, low density housing and inefficient transit patterns, and the traffic system”
    Finally, let’s not forget the thousands of people that are several miles away from the freeway in Forster Ranch and Talega which will not have traffic literally going by their voter protected open space and backyard.

  • Emily C

    Build a hospital not a toll road.

  • Not My Toll Road

    Seriously?! A toll road is NOT the answer, arterial roads work too. We have La Pata and that works great for us. Not toll road wanted or needed. Obviously you do not live in San Clemente because I do not think you would want a toll road in your backyard, in a established neighborhood or hovering next to and over your kids schools.

  • AllUsernamesTaken

    Scare tactics? I have news for you, the opening of La Pata did open an alternate route to MV and the hospital. (Trust me, I had to make the drive to the ICU daily for a couple weeks in the winter.) This is absurd – the proposed toll road won’t allow a faster drive to the hospital. You should be ashamed of this sad attempt to destroy people’s homes and ruin our beautiful city.

  • cordycord

    Everyone wants our roads to be improved. We dearly miss our hospital in San Clemente. But why give the task to an entity with a failed track record? They’re $11 billion in debt for what, 51 miles of toll roads? The debt is back-loaded too….easy to pay for now but a debt BOMB in the future. Doesn’t Orange County realize that we will ALL end up paying for these roads? If so, why not make them “free”? With the new road and regulation taxes headed our way from Sacramento, we don’t need toll road taxes as well–fold the TCA into the OCTA and lets start using them as free arterials.

  • kburgoyne

    One of the more creative attempts to pitch toll roads, that’s for sure. Will the patient need to be sure to bring along their own transponder? [sarcasm]

    With this specific comment I’m not actually out to attack toll roads. I’m mostly just amused by this approach to trying to pitch them. After all if the goal is ACTUALLY concern about getting loved ones to the emergency room, shouldn’t this be an argument for making the 241 a freeway so people don’t have to worry about paying a toll when trying to rush their loved ones to the hospital? What if your spouse is dying but your don’t have a toll road transponder? Is that a death sentence? Is this the dreaded “toll road death panel”? Perhaps it’s also an argument for reserving lanes on freeways during rush hour for medical emergencies?

    Joking around aside, if the author is TRULY and HONESTLY concerned about medical emergencies and not just searching for a lobbying argument in support of extending the 241, then my respects to the author and apologies for the joking around. It’s only that this sounded like an argument lobbyists would invent.