San Diego General Hospital was built in 1972 with city assistance, at the time called Community Hospital of San Diego. The hospital quickly got into financial difficulties due to its patient population (largely uninsured or under-insured). After San Diego General Hospital closed briefly, the facility was leased and operated through the 1980s as San Diego Physicians & Surgeons Hospital.
San Diego General Hospital’s last patients were transferred on March 2, 1991, to Coronado Hospital and various nursing homes, marking the end of its long battle to continue as Southeast San Diego’s only hospital. It’s closing ended the hospitals’ year-long struggle to keep the doors open, even as it piled up more than $15 million in unpaid bills to suppliers and taxing agencies.
According to City Councilman Wes Pratt: “It’s a shame we can spend billions liberating Kuwait but we can’t find the funds to free our citizens from disease and inadequate health care right here in America.”
The closure could mark the beginning of other financial action against the hospital’s owners, who are behind in their mortgage payments to National Medical Enterprises (NME). NME sold the hospital to them in August 1989.
Hospital officials asked the state to suspend its operating license. The license suspension can last up to one year. San Diego General employed 400 employees at the time it closed.
Employees, doctors and community leaders often complained about the hospital’s management philosophy. For the second quarters of both 1989 and 1990, the hospital failed to pay nearly $1.4 million in withheld taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, Another $555,000 was unpaid for the third quarter of 1990, bringing the total IRS liens filed to more than $1.9 million.
The hospital closed its emergency room in early February, stopping its stream of patients. Attempts to convert the hospital to non-profit status were never achieved. County Supervisor Leon Williams, a strong advocate for the hospital in the past, said the county and city have exhausted their ideas and resources for trying to save the hospital.
“We’ve done everything we know how to do,” Williams said. “There’s nothing else we can do.”
Shortly after the hospital closed, laid-off workers and some community representatives marched around the hospital, waving cardboard signs and chanting support for the hospital. The theme at the rally was alternately aggressive, criticizing the company that ran the hospital for nearly two years:
“San Diego–would you allow Children’s (Hospital) to close? There are children here too,” said one placard.
“The issue is needy, not greedy,” concluded a sign that someone had taped to the hospital’s former signboard.